Blog - What Is a Sabbatical?

What Is a Sabbatical?

As U.S. employers seek to help employees achieve a better work/life balance, a growing number of businesses are offering a sabbatical program. According to SHRM’s 2017 Employee Benefits survey report, 17% of U.S. companies offer sabbaticals. Find out why more HR professionals are implementing sabbatical programs and how those programs affect employee productivity, recruitment, and retention. Learn what sabbaticals look like including how long is a sabbatical and who benefits from them. Plus, get six strategies for creating an effective policy.

Is a sabbatical vacation?

Sabbatical leave is quite common in the academic world. University professors take sabbatical meaning: a semester or a year off from work every seven years to pursue research projects or other work in their field. Numerous studies show that professors who take sabbaticals are more satisfied and less stressed than colleagues that don’t.

In the business world, a sabbatical is meant to be a career break, from one to three months, or more, during which the employee can completely disconnect from work. After the break, it is understood that the employee will return to their same job.

For many employees, a sabbatical is not simply an extended vacation. It can be a time to pursue passion projects, personal growth and other objectives without the constraint of daily work. There are no specific laws that govern sabbaticals nor is there a requirement for employers to offer them. However, the most successful organizations are adding this coveted employee benefit to boost retention.

Six strategies for creating a sabbatical program

To get the most out of a sabbatical program, it’s crucial to thoroughly define your policy to effectively manage sabbatical leave. Follow these best practices to create your program:

1. Determine eligibility
Which employees can qualify to take a sabbatical and when? To be an effective part of your retention strategy, many experts recommend that employees accrue five or more years of service before they earn a sabbatical. Decide if your company will offer company-wide sabbaticals or to just specified roles within your workforce. Consider the impact to employee satisfaction if you don’t offer the benefit to everyone.

2. Give employees time to plan
First, determine if your company will require employees to submit an application or request for approval. You could ask workers to include an outline of their sabbatical plan and goals before granting the request. Encourage them to carefully consider different options such as travel, education, charity work, and personal or family health care. Plan ahead for the employee’s anticipated departure to ensure appropriate knowledge transfer and cross-training take place.

3. Lay out some ground rules
How often can employees take a sabbatical? Once qualified, how long do they have to take it? Can they add on accrued vacation time to the length of their sabbatical? If so, how much?

4. Settle the pay question
Will you offer a fully paid, partial, or unpaid sabbatical? How will you handle health benefits while the employee is away?

5. Explain any return-to-work requirements
Some businesses ask employees returning from sabbatical vacation to share their experiences with the office. If your firm decides to do this, clearly communicate your expectations. Also be sure to plan ahead for the possibility of someone not coming back to work after the leave.

6. Share the benefits
Once you’ve set up a policy, encourage employees to take their sabbaticals. Be open about the benefits of taking time away to rejuvenate, making a difference with charity work, or improving health. Let employees know you support them—it goes a long way toward increasing loyalty.

Get HR help to better support your workforce

To boost employee productivity and relieve stress, consider setting up a well-defined sabbatical leave program. Take steps now to invest in your workforce. Asure Software’s outsourced HR services assist you through the entire employee lifecycle—from managing workforce administration needs to providing strategic solutions.

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