What Is Sabbatical Leave?

What Is Sabbatical Leave?
Last Updated: September 5, 2023

Sabbatical leave is when an employee does not report to work but is still employed by the company. Sabbatical leave is a benefit that has gained popularity as various organizations have begun to introduce the benefit for their employees. In this article, we will discuss what sabbatical leave is, the time employees can take for sabbatical leave, whether it is paid or unpaid and what to consider when developing a sabbatical leave policy. In addition, we will look at information on the frequency and benefits of sabbatical programs.

Employees frequently require a break to recharge, explore hobbies, or pursue further education. According to the 2023 Global Travel Trends Report by American Express Travel, 9 out of 10 respondents said they plan to have two or more leisure trips in 2023. The report also reveals that 6 out of 10 respondents plan on requesting extended vacation to focus on wellness. These figures reveal that it is important for employers to consider introducing a sabbatical leave benefit for their employees.

Related: What are Examples of Sabbatical Leave?

Why Employees Request for Sabbatical Leave

There are several reasons why employees request sabbaticals. These can include:

  • Travelling,
  • Taking educational classes,
  • Conducting research, writing,
  • Volunteering,
  • Training to advance a career,
  • Caring for an old or ill family member.


The compensation for sabbatical leave varies depending on the organization's policies. Some organizations provide paid sabbatical leave, ensuring that employees earn their regular wage or a portion while on leave. Paid sabbaticals are increasingly popular in industries such as academia, technology, and large enterprises with well-established employee benefits programs.

Adobe provides up to four weeks of sabbatical to employees who have been with the company for more than five years and five weeks of sabbatical to employees who have been with the company for ten years or more. The Boston Consulting Group offers employees a sabbatical of up to eight weeks if they have been with the company for 5 years, and they can take additional time off after each of the next five years. Every year, approximately 8% of active partners choose to do so. These sabbaticals can be extended with paid time off if desired.

Sabbaticals can also be unpaid, and employees are responsible for paying their time off through savings or other financial arrangements. Some organizations may offer their employees a paid or unpaid sabbatical leave program.

According to a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management in 2019, 11% of organizations in the survey sample offed an unpaid sabbatical program, and 5% offered paid sabbaticals. Whether paid or unpaid, sabbaticals are appreciated by employees.

Related: What is Sabbatical vs PTO

How long is Sabbatical Leave?

The length of a sabbatical might vary, although it usually lasts from a few weeks to many months. Some companies provide extended sabbaticals of up to a year. There is also no minimum length needed for a sabbatical.

Because a sabbatical is not a vacation, so there are several things to remember. These may include training a replacement, covering duties, or other tasks that you would not normally have to consider during shorter breaks. Sabbaticals are normally at least four weeks long and can last up to a year to get the most out of this break.

What Is Sabbatical Leave?

Related: 13 Reasons why every employee need Paid Time Off

Developing a Sabbatical leave policy

While the specifics of a sabbatical leave policy vary for each organization, the following steps apply. If you intend to implement a relevant policy in your organization, that policy must be completely clear. The following steps are important.

  1. To begin, understand the "why" behind offering this benefit to employees. Employers should consider why they want to give a sabbatical and what they want employees to gain from it. A sabbatical program can sometimes be tailored to the employer's larger business and ideals.
  2. Define sabbatical leave. Is it a day off when employees can do whatever they want? Is it for a specific reason, such as volunteering in an environmental program?
  3. Then, decide when staff are eligible for sabbaticals. Companies may set eligibility criteria for employees to qualify for a sabbatical. A minimum tenure with the organization, achievement of specified performance milestones, or a predetermined waiting period between sabbaticals are all common requirements. The standard minimum is five years, but consider what is best for your organization.
  4. The following step is to establish clear standards for how employees can take a sabbatical, how you will analyze their request, their commitments, and what pertains to their pay, perks, or contract. Employees must normally file a formal request for a sabbatical, explaining their projected objectives and the intended benefits for themselves and the firm.
  5. The policy must also clarify how long an employee has to accept sabbatical leave before losing the days. Most employers need employees to use their vacation time before being eligible for the next sabbatical.
  6. The policy must also capture how frequently employees can take sabbatical leave. Envoy Global, an HR technology business, permits its employees to take a one-month paid sabbatical after every seven years of employment in addition to their regular paid time off.

Employees must, however, take the sabbatical for the entire month within two years of being eligible. This helps to coordinate absences and avoid shortages caused by too many employees taking a sabbatical simultaneously.

The Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) developed a sample sabbatical leave policy which organizations can download and customize to suit their needs. Click here to view the sample policy.

Consider How Absences will be covered

Employers must plan ahead of time for sabbatical vacations and interact with team members to facilitate a smooth transition and maintain productivity throughout the employee's absence. Employers can cover staff on sabbatical leave in various ways to ensure smooth operations and productivity.

  1. Employers can activate succession planning to fill in for employees on sabbatical leave. During the absence of the employee on leave, the selected individuals can assume the obligations and tasks of the absent employee. This method ensures that critical work is completed without burdening the rest of the team.
    For example, a marketing manager takes a three-month sabbatical to pursue personal development. The employer can promote the marketing officer as an acting marketing manager to handle day-to-day marketing activities, manage campaigns, and liaise with external partners during the manager's absence.
  2. Another successful way to cover for colleagues on sabbatical leave is to cross-train staff. The employer can distribute workload efficiently and maintain productivity by ensuring team members have the appropriate abilities to do jobs outside their primary roles.
    For example, a software development team member is taking a three-month sabbatical to travel. Before leaving, the employee works with a select colleague to cross-train on specific projects and technologies so that they can handle continuing development duties during their sabbatical.
  3. Employers can divide the workload among existing employees to compensate for the absence of the employee on sabbatical. This method may necessitate job titles and duties changes, but it can promote teamwork and guarantee that key tasks are effectively covered.
    For example, a senior human resources manager is taking a one-year vacation to pursue scholarly interests. Based on their skills and experience, the company redistributes the HR manager's tasks among other HR team members. One HR specialist is in charge of recruitment, another of employee relations, and a third of benefits administration.

Benefits of a Sabbatical Leave

Benefits for Employees

  • Reduced stress, depression, and anxiety: According to a survey of university professors, individuals who took a sabbatical reported less stress at work when they returned.
  • Reduced burnout (and ability to recover from it): The same study discovered that people who returned from sabbatical leave had increased psychological resources such as health, an awareness of autonomy, energy, and professional knowledge.
  • Freedom to explore other interests, such as travel or volunteering: Pursuing personal interests enables employees to participate in things they are enthusiastic about, resulting in personal growth and a sense of fulfilment. Travelling to new locations, working for a cause they care about, or engaging in hobbies contribute to their well-being and happiness.
  • Time for introspection and inner work: Sabbaticals provide for reflection and self-discovery. Employees can use this time to reflect on their career objectives, passions, and beliefs, creating greater clarity and alignment with their job. When they return to their roles, they may be able to make more significant contributions because they have a greater understanding of themselves.

Benefits for Employers

  • Enhanced Employee Retention: Happy people are more likely to have a favourable impact on their colleagues, are less likely to be absent, and may be more productive. Offering employees sabbatical leave can help to improve employee retention.
  • Employee turnover costs are reduced: Ultimately, retaining employees and developing a working environment conducive to work-life balance will reduce employee turnover costs.
  • Opportunities for new leader development: A different study found that when top-level officials in non-profit organizations take sabbatical leave, it acts as a helpful appraisal for the organization's whole leadership. During these senior executives' absence, potential leaders can grow, take on new tasks, and demonstrate their leadership skills.

As a result, an individual's sabbatical leave provides a good opportunity to assess the efficiency of your succession planning and make any necessary improvements.

  • Increased inventiveness and creativity: Sabbaticals are extended periods away from regular work obligations that allow employees to rest and refresh. This break from the daily grind helps alleviate burnout and stress, fostering an environment conducive to creative thinking and problem-solving.
  • Diverse experiences: Employees typically can pursue personal hobbies, travel, or participate in activities they are passionate about during sabbaticals. These encounters can expose them to various cultures, ideas, and points of view, extending their horizons and sparking new ways of thinking.
  • Improved Workplace Culture: When a company provides sabbaticals to its experienced employees, it demonstrates its commitment to their well-being. This can help to improve the workplace culture and brand name.
  • Best Employer Status: Existing employees may refer colleagues looking for work to the organization. They may even refer the company's products and services to friends and family who require certain items and services. The organization can promote itself as a pleasant workplace, allowing it to recruit top talent and expand its workforce.


Sabbatical leave allows employees to take a break from their regular work, pursue personal improvement, and renew themselves. While the regulations, duration, and compensation for sabbaticals differ per employer, the concept is becoming more widely recognized as an effective strategy to improve employee well-being and job satisfaction. Sabbatical programs are becoming a key tool for attracting and keeping talent in the modern workplace as more firms recognize the benefits.

Cindy Baker
Natasha Chimphondah
Natasha Chimphondah is a motivated and experienced Organizational Development Consultant with a passion for helping businesses thrive. Natasha has honed her skills in Board Evaluation, employee engagement, and Job evaluation. Natasha is also an accomplished writer, having published numerous business articles on topics ranging from workplace culture to leadership development. Their writing is known for its clarity, insightfulness, and practicality. As a consultant, Natasha is confident in her ability to identify areas of improvement within an organization and develop effective solutions that drive results. And with their enthusiasm for the work they do, Natasha is always eager to take on new challenges and help businesses achieve their goals.

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