Sabbatical Leave: The Retention Boost Your Organization Needs

CoachHub · 14 November 2022 · 6 min read

Over the past several years, one of the hottest topics in HR circles has been the increasing effectiveness of sabbatical leave for their employees. Sabbaticals are growing in popularity and many organizations are considering them as part of their talent management strategy in an effort to attract and retain top performers.

What is sabbatical leave? 

A sabbatical leave is an extended period of time taken off from employment. 

A sabbatical is taken after several years of employment in a company and is usually for the purpose of rest, acquiring new skills or pursuing education. 

Sabbaticals are commonly taken in academia, however, there is a growing number of corporate workplaces now offering a sabbatical leave as a kind of wellness benefit. It was found that 20% of Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For offer sabbaticals to their employees.

The origin of the word sabbatical can be traced back to the Greek word sabbaton. “Sabbaton itself traces to the Hebrew word shabbāth, meaning rest”. The word sabbatical has long been used to refer to a period of rest. In Christian and Jewish traditions the Sabbath is a period taken for religious worship and rest.

sabbatical leave

The benefits of sabbatical leave: 

A sabbatical leave is an attractive incentive for an employee to both join a company and stay. There are, of course, some risks worth mentioning. An employee may take a sabbatical to acquire new skills, only to take them into new employment. A temporary pause in employment can turn into a permanent one. Paid sabbaticals do have a financial impact on a company but the costs may be balanced out by the many benefits: 

For employees: 

  • New skills and interests 

The employee is given the chance to pursue further education, gain new skills and improve their abilities. They then return to the workplace with added value and with a refreshed perspective of their work. The time off can also facilitate a career shift that is better suited to the employee. 

  • Returns recharged and rejuvenated

An employee returning from a sabbatical can return with the motivation and inspiration of a brand new employee. After time to recharge and explore new interests, they are likely to be more energized than ever. They will be eager to share their new skills and ideas, positively impacting team morale. 

 

Sabbatical leave can be the perfect solution for a drained and unmotivated employee who is about to burn out. The opportunity to take a period of rest after a certain amount of time can be exactly what employees need if they become worn down and hit a plateau in their careers.  

 

For companies: 

  • Improves morale, productivity and engagement 

An employer who genuinely cares about their employee’s growth and well-being will create a loyal and committed workforce. Investing in employees’ interests and wellness is key to employee engagement. When an employee feels like they are working for someone who cares about them, their morale is heightened and productivity inevitably increases.

 

A generous sabbatical leave can be a very valuable marketing tool during the recruitment process. The option of a paid sabbatical is very attractive to potential new hires. This benefit may help to attract top talent who are looking for companies that will invest in their growth. It shows people you care about the well-being of your employees which makes a difference when choosing to move companies. 

  • Improves skills of the wider team

When an employee leaves on sabbatical, their duties and tasks will need to be shared with the wider team. This provides employees the opportunity to gain new skills and take on more responsibilities. 

  • A valuable retention tool 

A sabbatical may sway a burnt-out out employee to remain in a company. Such a benefit offered after some time is an excellent incentive for employees to stay. Rita Foley, co-author of Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break said “I’ve interviewed several employees who were ready to leave their companies when they went on sabbatical. Then they realized it wasn’t [a problem with] the company; they were just yearning for some time off”. 

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What does a good sabbatical policy include:

When designing a good sabbatical leave policy the following questions should be answered: 

 

Eligibility 

  1. Which roles and departments are eligible for a sabbatical?
  2. How long must an employee work in the company to take a sabbatical?
  3. Can employees reapply for a second sabbatical?

 

Pay 

  1. Will sabbaticals be fully paid or will a percentage of pay be offered? 
  2. Will a sabbatical include all benefits?
  3. Will employees be eligible for tuition reimbursement during their sabbatical? 

 

Procedure 

  1. How does an employee apply for a sabbatical? 
  2. Will there need to be a defined reason for the sabbatical? 

 

Purpose

  1. Will employees be held accountable for the activities or courses they take?
  2. Will the intellectual property rights of materials created during an employee’s sabbatical leave be deemed the property of the employer?

 

Returning to work

  1. What expectations does the company have of the work an employee produces while on sabbatical? 
  2. Will an employee be required to produce evidence of the activities conducted during their sabbatical? Such as a class syllabus, grade reports, a completed book or a reporting of findings. 
  3. Will there be repercussions if an employee fails to produce meaningful work during this period? 
  4. Will employees have to stay employed at the company for a certain period of time after their sabbatical? 
returning from sabbatical

How coaching can help:

Providing consistent coaching to employees can help identify those that would benefit from a sabbatical as well as being beneficial to those returning from a sabbatical: 

Identifying an employee in need of a sabbatical

Some signs of an employee in need of a sabbatical can include the following: 

  • Performance and productivity decreasing 
  • Increased sick days and absences 
  • Low morale, poorly motivated 
  • High levels of stress

Coaching during this time can be a valuable source of support: 

  • Guides employees to take time off instead of quitting. A burnt-out employee may be considering resigning. With coaching, they can be shown an alternative that may suit them better than resignation. 
  • Reassures employees that they are supported. Employees during this time may feel overwhelmed and insecure. Coaching can be a valuable source of reassurance to improve their state of mind. 
  • Helps employees to set clear objectives for their leave. Coaches can guide employees on how to plan their time off and help them to find new courses and skills to explore.

 

Coaching employees as they return from a sabbatical

An employee returning from a sabbatical may need extra support to adjust to professional life. 

  • Brings them up-to-date with changes. The employee may need to know updates in policies, processes and IT systems. A coach can be their source of information to avoid feeling overwhelmed or left behind. 
  • Encourages employees to share their experiences. Coaching can assist employees on how best to share what they have learned with the wider team. 
  • Assists employees to create a back-to-work plan. Coaches can help employees to integrate their new skills and learnings into their role. 

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In conclusion

A good sabbatical leave policy is an investment in employees and workplace culture. While such a program may have initial costs, Forbes argues that it will pay off in the areas of “retention, engagement and culture”. An effective coaching model can not only identify employees in need of a break but also ease the transition of those returning to work. The workplace has gone through many changes in recent times. Companies must be flexible and willing to adapt to employees’ needs as they evolve, or they risk losing them to more open and agile employers. 

Cathy Stapleton

Cathy is an Irish writer based in Berlin, Germany who is passionate about using words to inspire growth. As a certified mindfulness facilitator and performance coach, Cathy aims to create work that helps people connect with themselves and heighten their awareness. When she is not writing she is usually running in nature, meditating or contemplating an existential crisis.

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