Comprehensive Guide on Sabbaticals

Sabbaticals have been around for years but most employees don’t opt for them fearing pushback. But with the pandemic forcing them to take a long hard look at their personal lives, it is set to make a comeback.

In this blog, we’ll take you through what is a sabbatical, are work sabbaticals paid and any other questions employers may have.

What is a Sabbatical?

The word ‘sabbatical’ originates from the Hebrew word ‘sabbath’ – the day of rest. Similarly, this is what a sabbatical usually is – a break from work. Employees can use this time for a variety of purposes including traveling, learning, volunteering, or simply resting. Sabbaticals can be for any purpose. 

The length of the sabbatical varies by the company with educational institutions offering six months to year-long sabbaticals. On the other hand, commercial firms often offer shorter sabbaticals ranging from a few weeks to a few months. Sabbaticals must be approved by the employer, who may have specific policies in place to determine if the sabbatical should be approved. 

It is not often that you find a paid sabbatical. This makes sense because employees will not be working during that period. If a company offers to pay for their sabbatical, then it is up to the employee to apply for it. It is also up to the employee to check their contract or to contact their manager and see whether they are offered paid sabbatical. 

Where an employee’s contract does not offer paid sabbatical, they may still opt to ask for it but employer’s are not obliged to grant such leave. But you may choose to do so as it can be beneficial for employee productivity and it may provide the employee with an opportunity to upskill. Employers can ask employees to work part-time during a sabbatical or arrange the schedule of the sabbatical to match company interests and coincide with quiet periods. 

Where an employee’s intention for their sabbatical is to upskill or educate themselves then it is advantageous for employers to offer paid sabbaticals as this can instill loyalty within a skilled worker.  

Where a company does not offer paid sabbatical, the employee must save up well in advance. For further ideas on financing a sabbatical, click here.

What’s in Sabbaticals for Employers?

The Positives

Rejuvenated and Refreshed Employees

Sabbaticals give employees a chance to recharge and return to work fully committed and ready to work. This increases productivity and happiness of the workforce and can entice more members of staff to remain loyal to the company – thus increasing the retention rate. Similarly, offering the potential of a sabbatical as a benefit can help to attract top tier talent to the firm. A study that you can find here) by Smarp shows that:Sabbaticals Smarp Research 1

This shows that benefits such as sabbaticals, which help employees feel appreciated, can improve their eNPS and make them work harder. A sabbatical can help rejuvenate employees or allow them to complete a task that they have planned to do for a long time, thus, making them feel engaged when returning to work. Especially in client-facing roles, this can have great advantages as staff will be re-energised and happier. 

Nurturing Fresh Talent

Finally, a benefit that often goes unnoticed is that sabbaticals can help nurture new talent at the company. Often when an employee takes a sabbatical, their responsibilities are shared amongst those who remain at the company and more responsibility is taken on by younger and newer members of the team. This will accelerate the learning process and engage them with the business and culture in a quicker time frame. This can be tied in with the benefit of saving money as the business will have one less employee to pay. Meanwhile, other members of staff get upskilled by taking on more responsibility. 

The Negatives

While there are many great benefits in allowing employees to take a sabbatical, there are also some not-so-great aspects to it.

Disruption to the Business

The main issue is the possibility of a disruption to your business which can slow down productivity and the pace of the business. However, this can be solved with careful planning and assigning responsibility to other members of staff. Alternatively, a new employee can be hired temporarily. 

Too Many Sabbatical Requests

A further issue is a possibility of multiple employees asking to take a sabbatical. This can be unsustainable as a business model and therefore carefully designed policies should be put in place to limit the number of sabbaticals taken at the same time or in a set time frame.

Employees Shopping Around

Another issue is that the sabbatical may be used by the employee to look for other opportunities. This can lead to a waste of resources for the company due to the amount spent in their training and in providing them with benefits. The issue is worse when the employee seeks employment with a competitor – taking with them special knowledge and confidential information. 

One thing employers can do to combat this is to draw up a policy for sabbatical leave (you will be able to find a sample structure at the bottom of this article). Within that policy, the employer can insert a clause that employees who take a sabbatical will have to stay on with the company for a certain period of time once they complete their sabbatical leave. Additionally, employees will still be bound by all company policies during the time of their sabbatical. This includes confidentiality; therefore, the risk of company secrets being divulged is minimal and employers can rest easy. If you suspect that any such secrets have been divulged, the company can claim for breach of duty as the employee would have been bound by their duty of confidentiality. It should be said that this is an unlikely scenario and most employees return to work feeling more loyal. 

Lazy and Lethargic Returnees

Another possible situation can arise where the employee may return less productive and lazy. This may occur when a sabbatical was taken for no particular purpose other than to rest but this can easily be combated by making a policy that sabbaticals can only be taken for a particular purpose. Alternatively, companies can offer programs to settle employees back into work. However, active employees will most often pick up new skills and ideas that can greatly benefit the workplace when they return. 

Companies Currently Offering Sabbatical Programs

Adobe

To be eligible for a sabbatical the employee must have completed five years of continuous regular employment. The sabbatical must be used within 24 months of the employee becoming eligible. Employees have to seek approval 60 to 90 days in advance. Sabbaticals can be used for any purpose as long as it does not conflict with Adobe’s interests.

How the Adobe Sabbaticals Work

Facebook

Facebook currently has a sabbatical program named Recharge, allowing employees to take 30 days off. Employees can only do this once every five years, but the thirty days are paid. 

Harvard University

Sabbaticals originated in academia and the practice continues to this date. The primary purpose is to offer professors the ability to educate themselves further or to teach at a second university for a term. Harvard allows a sabbatical leave every 6 years. The length of the leave is a full year with 50% support or a half year with 100% support. 

Nike

Nike offers their employees five-week paid sabbaticals if they stay on with the company for at least 10 years. This helps them to attract and keep talent on for an extended length of time – allowing invested resources on training to be better utilised. 

Timberland

Path of Service is the name Timberland has given their program. However, this is not strictly a sabbatical program. Rather the program focuses entirely on volunteering. This allows employees to be paid for 40 hours of their time that they volunteer within their community. 

What’s in Sabbaticals for Employees?

Sabbatical Benefits

As you can see in the picture above, there are plenty of reasons for employees to be taking a sabbatical – whether for health reasons, self-improvement, or just for fun. Here are some of your options during a sabbatical. 

Volunteering

Many charities seek individuals from every walk of life, so there will be opportunities out there if you are interested in making a difference or supporting a cause. This is also a chance at self-improvement by interacting with people from many different cultures and learning something new while you’re at it. 

Upskilling/Further Education

Learning a new skill or taking a new course can be a valuable and rewarding thing to do during a sabbatical. Not only can this increase your potential and productivity at work, but it may also open up further avenues that you did not know of. Upskilling can also lead to an increase in self-confidence which can reflect well on you at work and in future endeavours. 

Travelling

If you are employed full-time, then chances are that you do not get extended periods of time to travel the world. Well, this is your chance. One of the best uses of a sabbatical is to go on that trip that you have postponed your whole life. Depending on the money you have saved up, you could even go on a world tour. This could be a once in a lifetime chance to travel freely. However, with the current pandemic, be sure to heed all local Governmental warnings and regulations. For up-to-date UK travel advice, click here. For up-to-date USA travel advice, click here.

Rest

Sometimes the best thing to do is power down and rest. Life and work can get hectic and you may be busy for most of your life. So if you have the time, it might just be worth it to simply rest and rejuvenate yourself. This can be included with travelling – for example, going on a retreat, a cruise, or to a relaxing area of the world. Use this chance to pick up new hobbies and rest easy. 

Find more sabbatical ideas here

Sabbatical Policies Around The World

Sabbatical Leave Around the World

Currently, most countries do not offer employees a right to sabbatical leave. This is left to be decided by employee contracts. Nevertheless, here are some of the laws around taking sabbaticals in the biggest economies of the world: 

America, China, Japan and Canada Sabbatical Policies

It is not regulated and is left to be decided by company policy.

Germany Sabbatical Policy

No specific laws. Employers are free to agree on their own policies and offer sabbatical as they see fit. A 2014 court judgment held that employers cannot reduce an employee’s paid leave because they have taken a sabbatical.

India Sabbatical Policy

Sabbatical leave (also called study leave) is at the discretion of the employer. Mainly granted to allow higher education or other training to be completed. No explicit statutes.

UK Sabbatical Policy

Employers do not have to offer career breaks or sabbatical but where they do, the policy must be clearly laid out. Find out more here. There is also no statutory right to go back to work once the sabbatical has finished – it is left to the employer’s discretion. 

France Sabbatical Policy

There is a right to a sabbatical. To be eligible, the employee must have and prove 36 months’ tenure in the firm. They must also have worked at the firm for 6 years. Sabbatical leave must last at least 6 months and a maximum of 11 months. There are further requirements to look at regarding the waiting period between leaves. 

During the sabbatical, the employee is not covered by the employment contract and is not entitled to pay. You must request a sabbatical from your employer, they can refuse, but if they do then they must justify the reason. You can appeal the decision to the employment tribunal if you disagree. 

Employees are entitled to a sabbatical leave every 6 years of employment. 

Italy Sabbatical Policy

No such governmental recognition of sabbatical leave. There is an educational leave granted under Act 53/2000 which allows those with 5 years seniority to request up to 11 months unpaid leave for the purposes of education.

What Clauses can be Included in a Sabbatical Leave Policy?

Here are some example policy clauses that should be included in the sabbatical programs offered by your company. Bear in mind that not all the following clauses may be applicable to your situation. Each clause will first be explained, followed by an example of how the clause can be drawn up. 

Basics of Sabbatical Leave

This can be used to introduce the sabbatical leave and to identify the date from when the policy will be active. 
Clause Defining Sabbatical Leave

Length of the Sabbatical 

Use this clause to explicitly state the parameters around the term of the sabbatical.

Length of a Sabbatical Leave Clause

Qualifying Years of Employment

This clause can be used to highlight the amount of time that an employee should have worked at the company before they can request and take a sabbatical. Eligiblity Clause for Sabbaticals
Purpose of Sabbatical

This clause can be used to limit the purpose of the sabbatical. You can opt not to include this clause and allow employees to take a sabbatical for any purpose.Usage of Sabbatical Leaves
Obligations on the Employee

This clause allows the employer to place certain obligations upon the employee that seeks to take a sabbatical (e.g. to submit a request for a sabbatical within a certain period). 

Time Clause for Sabbatical Leave Application

Suspension of Employment Contract 

This clause can be used to put into writing that the employee’s rights under contract will be revoked for the duration of the sabbatical.

Suspension Clause of Sabbatical Leaves

Benefits During Sabbaticals

A clause to outline which company benefits the employee can continue to use and/or receive during their sabbatical. 

Benefits Clause for Sabbaticals

Returning to Work 

This clause will be used to detail the policy regarding the ability of the employee to return to work post-sabbatical. Returning from a Sabbatical Clause

It is helpful for HR to have an open channel for communication so that employees can discuss sensitive matters such as sabbatical leave. 

We hope this guide was enough to answer most questions around sabbaticals. Do reach out to us @HarmonizeHQ if you need any more help.