What is Sabbatical Leave?


Remote-first businesses have evolved dramatically, and now approximately 16% of companies worldwide are 100% remote. As talented employees have more choices, the companies that stand out are those with attractive perks, including a sabbatical program.

Sabbatical leave is like a work hiatus or time out for an extended period, and corporate companies typically offer it. However, more employers are beginning to take notice of its advantages. Its many rewards include enhancing your employee's well-being and employer brand.

NoHQ delivers a wealth of tried and tested ideas to support remote teams' mental health. If attracting employees or employee retention concerns you, keep reading to learn how this unique perk creates a win-win opportunity for your employees and company.

What is Sabbatical Leave?

Sabbatical leave is long-term leave agreed upon between an employer and an employee. The employee can use this period for various reasons, from acquiring new skills for career progression to indulging in a passion or resting. Typically, sabbatical leave is viable for employees who have worked with an organization for more than five years.

How can sabbatical leave benefit remote teams?

Reduces stress

Chronic stress contributes to various illnesses and diseases that, over time, can lead to premature death. And work-related stress is common. An astounding 83% of workers suffer from work stress. A university study found employees who went on sabbatical leave experienced less stress when they returned to work.

Self-reflection and development

Sabbatical leave allows employees time to explore, consider their life priorities, and pursue interests outside of work. Employees may look at opportunities to develop their skill set while away. Along with feeling re-energized and happier, employees return with increased knowledge. This can help them remain focused and engaged for higher-quality output.

Improve physical and mental health

It allows employees with long-term conditions time to focus on their health. An employee may need to rest or recover from treatment. Or they may wish to recharge through recreational activities like traveling.

How can a sabbatical leave option benefit your company?

Boosts company brand

Traditionally, sabbatical leave was not an incentive offered by many employers and was reserved for academic space. Employers offering sabbaticals are still relatively rare yet on the rise. According to Society for Human Resource Management survey, only 12% of employers provided unpaid sabbaticals, and 5% offered sabbatical pay.

Offering a sabbatical program will show you're dedicated to the wellness and prosperity of your employees. Thanks to your company and its exceptional employee benefits, your business will stand out as a great workplace.

Attracts talent

Sabbaticals are attractive to job seekers. According to APA's recent well-being survey, 81% of individuals said they'd be looking for workplaces that support mental health, and a sabbatical accommodates this. More employers realize the benefits of extended leave over vacations, including burnout prevention and better employee retention.

Happier employees

Employees will likely return to the office feeling rejuvenated, more productive, and with new ideas and insights. In addition, other co-workers will benefit from cross-training as they gain further experience when taking over the colleague's tasks.

Employees will feel happier knowing they can take extended time out.

How to Create a Sabbatical Leave Policy

If you're ready to empower your team with sabbatical benefits, consider the following elements when setting up your sabbatical leave policy.

1) Define eligibility criteria

Who in the company will be eligible for sabbatical leave? In general, these should be your most trusted and loyal employees. Consider possible outcomes when offering sabbatical to particular groups:

  • Senior employees. The criteria may include years of service, accomplishments, and contributions to the company. However, offering a sabbatical to senior employees only may produce resentment amongst the team.
  • All employees, based on years of service. After five to seven years of service is the most common. Remote-first companies like Buffer and Shopify offer paid sabbatical leave after five years.

2) Brainstorm

Discuss the following with your human resources and executive teams to iron out the sabbatical eligibility criteria:

  • The length of service before qualifying for a sabbatical.
  • The sabbatical length.
  • Paid or unpaid sabbatical? If paid, what will their salary be?
  • Will a sabbatical be required for specific purposes?
  • Can the leave period be extended, and if so, under what conditions?
  • Will they be required to stay with the company for a specific time after their leave?
  • What is the leave notice period?
  • Under what circumstances can a sabbatical request be refused?

3) Consider the Costs 

The Fair Labor Standards Act states that you're not legally required to pay an employee for time not worked. However, employees are more likely to use the offer if a contribution is made. Furthermore, payment will help ease their financial stress, and thus, they'll reap the gains of a time-out.

In deciding whether sabbaticals can be paid, consider how much the company could spend annually to cover a percentage of the employee's regular salary. The sabbatical length can be based on what's financially viable for the company.

4) Set a sabbatical leave request process

Ensure your employees are well-versed on the procedure to request sabbatical leave; the process should include information like:

  • How to request a sabbatical leave? E.g., using written communication detailing the reason for the request.
  • How are sabbatical requests granted? Whether the decision is based on a case-by-case situation or company requirements.
  • How will you communicate with your employee during the sabbatical? For example, you may set up regular check-ins for progress updates if the employee is in training.

5) Contingency plan

Preparing for an employee's sabbatical leave depends on the duration and the employee's role. Is it client-facing, or does it involve management? For instance, if the employee is an account manager, you'll need to introduce the client to the replacement in good time.

You'll need to decide whether someone will need to take over their duties or whether duties can be split among the team without causing work fatigue.

Become one of the best remote companies to work for

Sabbatical leave allows employees to take a strategic work pause and is something to be considered by all remote companies wanting to stand out. Although developing sabbatical leave rules may take some trial and error, the benefits are company-wide. The employee will likely return to your company with increased productivity. And including a sabbatical program perk will put your company in good stead to becoming one of the best remote companies.

For more ideas on employee well-being and retention, check out NoHQ's blog.


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