Career advice

Is taking a sabbatical leave from work an option for you?

Long weekends and a couple of weeks of vacation a year may not be enough time away from the daily grind for you. A lesser-known but often available option is taking a sabbatical from work to unwind and gain a fresh perspective.

A sabbatical leave is a kind of time off some companies include in their policies and perks as recruitment and retention strategies for attracting workers. However, because sabbaticals are much less commonly used or discussed than vacation, sick, or personal days, many employees don’t even know the option might be available to them.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is when an employee takes a prolonged break from their job. People take a sabbatical leave for numerous reasons, including taking time for physical or mental health issues or following another passion they might have, such as extended travel, advanced studying or training, or participating in a volunteer project.

Not many companies offer official sabbatical programs at the moment. A study by the Society for Human Resource Management just before the pandemic found that only five percent of organizations had official policies for paid sabbaticals. A further 11 percent offered the option for extended unpaid leaves of absence. Some organizations also provide the hybrid or reduced pay model, where an employee will work for three-quarters of their salary for three years and then take the fourth year off, earning three-quarters of their salary.

Post-pandemic, the idea of sabbaticals are being more frequently discussed among Human Resources professionals as they craft new policies and benefits packages to appeal to employees in a tight labour market. Talent sourcing experts recognize that many workers feel burnt out in the aftermath of the pandemic and have placed an increased premium on their mental health and work/life balance. Offering the potential for paid, unpaid, or hybrid sabbatical models with extended time off and the position held securely for staff while they’re away can be a strategy for appealing to these workers.

How much time away qualifies to be a sabbatical?

While there isn’t a hard and fast rule about the minimum amount of time taking a leave of absence must be for it to qualify as a sabbatical, they are longer than your average annual vacation time.

A sabbatical might seem like an extra-long vacation, but its purpose is to be much more fulfilling than simply an extended holiday. Sabbaticals are intended to be a time to think differently about your life and your career and to strategize where you want to go next.

Not everyone can take a year away from their profession – even if they have arranged the finances in advance - but a month-long sabbatical will feel like a longer-than-usual vacation. Three to six months away is a more reasonable length of time to shoot for in order to experience the full benefits of truly being disconnected from your job and regular life routine.

Is a sabbatical right for you?

If you are feeling burnt-out and disconnected from your work, there is another passion you are yearning to pursue at least temporarily, or you want to upgrade your skills, then a period of sabbatical leave from work might be the right option for you.

Consult your company’s policies on time off to see if there is a clause related to extended leaves of absence or employee sabbaticals. Traditionally, programs like these are more common in educational institutions, such as public and private schools, colleges and universities, and other public sector environments than they are in a private sector corporate setting. But things are changing.

Sabbaticals away from work offer the opportunity for employees to come back to the workplace refreshed, inspired, and more motivated than ever. Employers are using this perk as an incentive to attract workers and convince them to stay with the company for extended periods of time.

This is because where sabbaticals are available, they are almost always the only options for employees who have worked for the company for several years at least. The theory is that the sabbatical leave is offered as a reward for extended periods of loyal service. Hanging on to their existing employees is something that an increasing number of organizations struggle with in an increasingly tight labour market.

Talk to your employer

If you have been with your company for a decent amount of time and you feel the need to step away for a period to recharge, reenergize, or pursue another project, talk to your employer. Even if the official policy for sabbatical leave doesn’t exist yet with your organization, the concept is still fairly well known. And workplaces are evolving. Companies appreciate the value of having a healthy, energetic, productive, and creative staff – and all of those elements can be given a boost by allowing for extended periods of leave.

The current labour market conditions also make employee retention a top priority for many companies, making this a strategic time to negotiate benefits to keep you engaged with work.

Plus, if you are planning to use your time off to undergo advanced training or learn new skills, that could also be an incentive for your employer to support your taking a sabbatical leave.

Talk about your commitment to your employer and how allowing you to take an extended leave can benefit your work for the organization in the long run. Then make the most of your time off, and come back renewed and ready to take your career to the next level.

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