Outside of Academia, Are Sabbaticals a Thing?

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Q: I had a senior staff member ask me to consider offering a sabbatical. Outside of academia, are sabbaticals a thing? How seriously should our company consider this request? 

A: Sabbaticals are a buzzy benefit with a proven track record of attracting and retaining tenured talent! 

In 2019, according to a Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) survey, almost 16% of companies offered some form of sabbatical. These can differ by industry, but generally look like paid or unpaid time off — typically one to three months of time off every 7 years — to rest, recharge, and prevent burnout.  

Although sabbaticals can feel like a daunting benefit to start offering, they can provide a real incentive for staff to join and stay with your organization. They also tend to lead to capacity-building, either from cross-training to cover a leave, or from succession planning when a senior staff member steps away for an extended period of time. They also don’t cost more than the employee’s salary.  

Obviously, it can be hard to imagine someone stepping away for an extended period of time, and can put a strain on your existing team. However, with a solid plan in place, this can typically be alleviated — after all, organizations cover other types of leave (like long-term sick leave) without a plan in place all the time. You can also craft policies that would require positive performance reviews, appropriate timing in consideration of seasonal workflows and other colleagues’ scheduled time off, and a commitment to stay beyond the sabbatical.  

And, if someone is asking for extended time off, they’ll probably take it regardless of whether you offer them a sabbatical, typically by putting in their notice. Having a sabbatical policy in place means they’re much more likely to come back.  

PS: If you’d like support developing a sabbatical policy, our HR Consultant can help! 

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