Workplace Sabbaticals: Tips for Deployment

The word ‘sabbatical’ often conjures up the image of a university professor taking time off from the classroom to conduct research, further education or teach abroad. Although common in academia, sabbatical programs for more tenured corporate employees are also gaining popularity around the world.

Although still a rare offer for most employers – with only 5% of companies offer paid sabbaticals and 11% unpaid leave. More and more companies are looking to offer this benefit to help retain top talent and reduce burnout. There are many benefits – for both employees and employers – of offering this extended leave.

On a personal level, sabbaticals can help reduce employee stress and anxiety and improve their overall mental well-being. They can choose to use the time to volunteer, spend more time with family, focus on personal development, or simply soak up not having any work-related demands. All of this can contribute to an employee’s happiness and personal growth.

Sabbaticals also have professional benefits for employees. Some may take time to focus on skill development or rethink their career goals. Often, employees come back with new perspectives, new ideas, and more motivation, which can benefit both the employee and the employer. Employers are seeing gains in terms of reduced employee burnout and improved talent retention, as well as more opportunities to train employees in new roles as they replace co-workers. More often than not, sabbaticals are mutually beneficial.

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Setting up a successful sabbatical program

Implementing a successful employee sabbatical program is an investment — especially for startups — and can be messy on many levels if not executed correctly. Here are some tips to keep in mind when rolling out an effective sabbatical program.

1. Strategize and communicate qualifications.

It is important for organizations to formulate and align the qualifications they will need for their leave policy, document them, and then communicate them across the business. Does the employee have to be in good standing, and if so, what does this entail? How long must he be with the company to qualify for a sabbatical? This can vary by industry and company size. For a fast-paced startup, a shorter time frame, like three years, demonstrates strong commitment in an environment conducive to burnout. For more established businesses, it may make more sense to offer the benefit after a longer period, say five to seven years. Some companies might just want to offer an unofficial sabbatical program that is approved on a case-by-case basis upon request. Adopt the approach that you believe will best meet the needs of your employees and the business.

2. Set expectations for timing and activities.

How long should the sabbatical leave be and what is expected of employees during their leave (if any)? Again, depending on company size and industry, organizations need to consider how much time off they can afford and ensure they communicate if employees are at risk of losing out. their sabbatical leave if they do not take it within a certain period. Additionally, if the company expects employees to use their leave for specific purposes such as research or skills development, it should ensure that this is communicated to eligible employees. For instance, Deloitte provides two types of sabbaticals. One option provides a month’s unpaid leave for any purpose. The other offers a three or six month sabbatical focused on career development and personal growth with a reduced salary.

3. Plan ahead.

While it may seem obvious, having a handful of team members out for months at a time can wreak havoc on their teams if not properly planned. Organizations should put in place a process for effective employee coverage and require sabbatical dates to be requested well in advance so that those going on leave don’t leave their co-workers hanging. The more they can plan ahead, the better.

Ultimately, a number of companies are rolling out sabbatical programs with great success, but it’s still fairly new to the corporate world with plenty of room for growth and improvement. Having rolled out a sabbatical policy for Veriff, we know it’s possible for a company of almost any age and size, and can be extremely beneficial to employees and employers if executed correctly. Especially in our age of distributed work, increased stress and anxiety, this can be an extremely valuable advantage in retaining key talent for businesses around the world and should not be overlooked.

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