The case for extended leaves: why sabbaticals are so beneficial

Ghina Fahs
March 10, 2023
The case for extended leaves: why sabbaticals are so beneficial
Employee experience
Best practices

Did you know? The term "sabbatical" comes from the Hebrew word "sabbath," which means "to rest." It was originally used by Jews to refer to the seventh day of the week when they would set aside work and make time for rest and worship. Fast forward to today, and "sabbatical" has become a modern buzzword in the workplace referring to an extended leave from the job, lasting anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. While that’s a far cry from the original one day of rest, the idea of taking time off to recharge and refocus remains—and is just as important today as it was in the past.

This extended vacation from work can give your people the chance to rest, travel, or pursue their passions. Whether one feels called to pursue a new certification or training, volunteer abroad, or work on a creative project, a sabbatical provides the perfect opportunity to step away from the usual routines and to-do lists, and connect with ourselves and the world around us.

What’s more, not only are sabbaticals great medicine for mental health and personal growth, but they can also prove to be highly beneficial for career growth in the long run. In this article, we’ll dive into the benefits of sabbaticals and the many doors that they can open for your employees.

Mental health benefits

We grow up hearing so much talk about the importance of taking action, but much less often are we taught the importance of taking breaks, resting, slowing things down, and putting a pause on the constant movement of life.

In the context of this discussion, work = action, and sabbaticals = pause (even if the sabbatical means trekking up mountains or doing volunteer work). The key point here is to step away from the stress and daily grind of modern work life and career-driven action.

The truth is, it’s easy to slip into autopilot mode when we’re focusing on work for so long; we forget to stop and reflect on where we're heading. So, it's important for your people to get a chance to take some time away from that to take care of their mental health, consider whether they’re fulfilled, and whether they need to make any changes to their work-life balance.

Here are some of the benefits your team can enjoy during their sabbaticals to improve their mental health:

  • Get out into nature: Connecting with nature is a great way to tend to our mental health, as it’s been known to effectively reduce stress and increase feelings of happiness and well-being. Going on hikes, cycling through parks, or taking daily walks can all be quite effective.
  • Remember what sparks joy: There’s no better time than a sabbatical to intentionally revisit the things that sparked joy in our hearts in the past. These things made us happy back then for a reason, so we shouldn’t let them stay dormant in us for too long. Whether it’s painting, playing an instrument, or rewatching our favorite cartoons, nurturing our inner child can do wonders for our mental health.
  • Relax and take care of yourself: This can look like seeing a therapist or a life coach, getting enough Z’s, signing up for sound healing sessions, or practicing deep breathing and meditation techniques. Our advice? A yoga or meditation retreat!
A young guy with a full cap looking out to the sea with rocky mountains  on the edge

Personal growth benefits

If an employee is taking a sabbatical, remind them to do it for themselves, first and foremost. By investing in themselves and their personal growth, other areas of their life (including their mental health and professional life) will inevitably flourish, as well.

The reality is that many of us have had to set aside our personal interests and goals to focus on our careers and while, for some of us, these two areas overlap, for others, they don’t. To add to that, juggling family responsibilities and work duties can often leave little time for play, expansion, and exploration. That’s why sabbaticals are a prime opportunity to pursue personal interests or start a side project.

Here are some ways your employees can use their sabbatical to focus on personal growth:

  • Becoming a student again: Whether it’s learning a new language, becoming a master baker, or getting into coding, encourage your employees to take this opportunity to learn something new and expand their horizons. Get them excited about the feeling of being a curious student again.
  • Exploring the world through travel: Seeing new places and experiencing different cultures can be a hugely enriching experience. There are things we can learn from coming in contact with the world that no amount of books can teach. Our advice? Suggest some volunteering opportunities that speak to them; giving back and helping others is a rewarding experience that can recharge them like no other.
  • Taking up a new hobby: Sabbaticals are a great time to dive into new experiences. Whether it’s taking art classes or going skydiving, getting out of our comfort zone and putting ourselves in new situations is not only super fun, but also a fantastic way to get to know ourselves better and discover parts of ourselves we might have otherwise never brought to light.
A mountaineer guy walking through the woods to hike up the mountain

Professional benefits

Finally, a sabbatical can serve as a supercharged boost for professional growth and as the ultimate preventative measure against burnout! Taking a break from work gives your employees the opportunity to step back and assess where they are in their careers and where they want to go next. It's a chance for them to get equipped with new skills and come back to work with elevated qualifications, fresh perspectives, and renewed energy, ready to tackle new challenges.

Here are some things you can recommend to your employees for boosting their professional skills during a sabbatical:

  • Take a course or get a certification: Encourage them to deep-dive into a certain skill or subject area that will make them more competitive in their field.
  • Work on a personal project or side hustle: This will not only showcase their skills and abilities to their employers, but it’s a great way to enrich their resume and speed up their chances at leveling up within the company.
  • Volunteer or explore exchange programs: Not only does giving back feel great, but volunteering their time and expertise to a non-profit organization or community group can open them up to learning experiences that they never would’ve otherwise come across, all while building new relationships and expanding their professional network.

“I’m convinced! What happens now?”

According to a report by SHRM, about 15% of employers offer a sabbatical program or sabbatical leave policy, and only 5% offer paid sabbaticals. But the good news is that these numbers are on the rise!

If you're an organization looking to boost morale, retention, and overall productivity among your employees, consider offering a sabbatical program! Not only will it show your employees that you value their personal and professional growth, but with all of the amazing experiences and skills they'll gain during their sabbatical, your organization will benefit, as well. If you’d like to include sabbaticals as a part of your employee benefits strategy, keep an eye out for our guide on how to develop and implement a sabbatical leave policy. Trust us, it can be a win-win for both your people and your business.

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