Things to consider as you develop and implement a sabbatical policy

Ghina Fahs
May 4, 2023
Things to consider as you develop and implement a sabbatical policy
Employee experience
Best practices

Let's start with the basics: what exactly is a sabbatical? Simply put, it's a break from work that an employee takes, usually for an extended period of a few months up to a year, to pursue personal interests, travel, or engage in activities outside of their job.

Now, you might be thinking, "is it even a good idea to offer employees such long breaks?” The answer to that is, it’s one of the most important benefits you can offer your employees. Sabbaticals serve as a much-needed break from the daily routine, and they come with rewards; they’ve been shown to increase employee engagement, productivity, and loyalty. Plus, they give your employees a chance to recharge and come back to work with renewed energy and fresh ideas—this is not only great for the role they play at your company but also for their mental health on a personal level. It’s a win-win!

In this blog post, we’ll talk about what types of sabbaticals you can offer, how to structure your policy in a way that benefits both your employees and your company, and best practices to help you get started on the right foot. Remember, the sabbatical policy that you end up implementing will depend on multiple factors such as your company culture, finances, and resources, so think over the following options and questions before you finalize any decisions.

First, let’s look at the types of sabbaticals:

There are a few different options to consider, depending on your company's needs and resources.

Paid sabbaticals:
The most straightforward option is to offer paid sabbaticals, where employees take a set amount of time off (usually several weeks to several months) with full pay. This is a great option for companies that can afford to offer it, as it shows a real commitment to employee wellbeing.

Unpaid sabbaticals: If you can't afford to offer paid sabbaticals, another option is to offer unpaid sabbaticals. This allows employees to take time off without pay, but still keep their job and benefits. This can be a good compromise if you don't have the budget for full paid sabbaticals.

Partial-paid sabbaticals: Another option is somewhere between the two—offer partial payment, which enables employees to take part of their salary or a specific percentage for a predetermined period of time.

Now, how do you create a sabbatical policy that works for your company? Here are the steps to follow:

Step 1: Determine the length of the sabbatical

How long do you want to allow your employees to take off? The most common lengths are one, three or six months. You'll want to consider how long your employee has been with the company, as well as what their job responsibilities are. For example, you might not want to offer a six-month sabbatical to your CEO, but a three-month break could be just what your sales team needs to recharge.

Step 2: Decide on eligibility requirements

Not everyone should be eligible for a sabbatical. You'll want to set clear criteria for who qualifies. Some common requirements include length of service, job performance, and position within the company.

Step 3: Determine compensation during the sabbatical

Will you continue to pay your employee during their sabbatical? Will they receive a reduced salary? Or will they be unpaid? This is an important decision to make, as it will affect your employee's financial situation during their time off.

Step 4: Set expectations

Going on a sabbatical means leaving active duty for a long time. As an HR, it’ll be your role to ensure that the employee completes all unfinished work and closes all projects before leaving.

Moreso, while the point of a sabbatical is to take a break from work, you'll still want to be on the same page around expectations related to work. Will they be required to check in with their team or manager periodically? Will someone else cover the employee’s workload while they’re away? Will they be able to extend their sabbatical upon request? Will it affect or delay their eligibility for a promotion or a raise? And so on… Make sure expectations on both sides are clear and reasonable.

Step 5: Determine the process for requesting and approving a sabbatical

How will your employees request a sabbatical? Who will approve it? You'll want to set clear guidelines for how the process works, so there's no confusion or miscommunication. Create an accessible application form that clearly outlines everything they need to know before applying, and once approved by all, keep a declaration with supporting documents and manager approval.

You can also set a structure around the policy so it’s not randomized. Some companies offer sabbatical policies that usually kick in after a certain number of years of service. For example, Airbnb offers their employees four weeks of paid sabbatical leave after every four years of employment. The Boston Consulting Group offers six to twelve months of unpaid sabbatical leave after three years of employment. You can decide on the rhythm that works best for your company and people.

All of this can help ensure that employees take their sabbatical seriously and use it effectively.

Step 6: Communicate the policy to your employees

Once you've created your sabbatical policy, make sure you communicate it to your employees. You might even want to hold an all-hands meeting to discuss the benefits of taking a sabbatical and answer any questions your team might have. And be sure to incorporate it into your recruitment and onboarding materials.  

Finally, let's talk about some best practices for implementing a sabbatical policy:

Define the purpose of the sabbatical

Help your employees get inspired if they don’t already have a clear purpose. Have an open conversation about all the exciting possibilities, and keep them inspired by encouraging them to pursue activities that can help them grow professionally or personally.

Be flexible

Every employee's situation is different, so it's important to remain flexible when it comes to sabbaticals. If an employee needs to take a break for personal reasons, consider making an exception to your eligibility requirements.

Plan ahead

Make sure employees' duties are covered while they're away, so there are no disruptions to the team's work. You might need to hire a temporary employee or redistribute tasks among your existing team.

Follow through on your commitments

If you promise your employees a sabbatical, make sure you follow through on that commitment. Don't let work demands or budget constraints get in the way of fulfilling your promise.

Foster a culture that encourages healthy breaks

Encourage employees to take sabbaticals by showcasing success stories and making it clear that the company values the benefits of taking time off.

Good luck!

Adding a sabbatical policy to your employee benefits strategy is one way to make you stand out as an employer, because not only does it display your commitment to employee wellbeing and work-life balance, but it also shows that you mean it. It’s a process that’ll cost you a bit, but the rewards will be worth it, and you can count on that!

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