A sabbatical is an extended period of absence from work, agreed upon by an employee and their employer. There are multiple reasons why an employee may seek to take a sabbatical, but one of the most common is to pursue some kind of productive passion (like traveling, studying, volunteering, etc.)
A sabbatical or a career break are often two sides of the same coin. This is an agreed-upon amount of time off from work. A career break, though, is a more popular corporate term — whereas sabbatical has a more academic resonance. In some cases, too, a career break may be shorter (a month rather than a period of months).
If we think of a sabbatical in its purest definition, we also need to think about sabbatical leave from an HR perspective. This can be grounded in what we’ll call a sabbatical leave policy which is, basically, how you formulate a policy around extended periods of time off for employees.
In general, sabbatical leave is an agreed-upon period of unpaid time off — or, in more extreme instances, to resign from your role for a set period of time. We can think of it as a clean “break from work,” but where your position is waiting for you when you get back.
As the term implies, a sabbatical year is a year-long break from work. This is where the term itself becomes a bit more academic, as ‘sabbatical years’ mostly apply to college professors who take a year off from teaching and use it for study.
The overarching idea, which we will discuss further, is that sabbaticals are effective in counteracting the effects of employee burnout. Especially for long-standing employees in high-pressure roles, this affords them the opportunity to recharge, and come back better than ever. It can be a key role in retention, too, as burnout can often result in employee churn.
In some cases, yes. In 2018, a study from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) stated that 15% of employers were offering sabbaticals. That said, only 5% of them were paid. While few and far between, they do exist and are typically dependant upon a set number of years within the company.
taking a career break from work can benefit both employees and the organizations. For example, it might increase employee retention, be used as a reward, or even help bring new skills and motivate employees.
Employee burnout is a real risk. It was even classified by the World Health Organization as an occupational phenomenon and was included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases. Here is how the WHO defines burn-out:
“Burn out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
While a sabbatical leave may not always be a solution to burnout at work, it certainly may offer an incentive for employees to keep going until they can finally take extended time off.
It could also provide an opportunity for employers and employees to explore an alternative way of helping employees gain the time, space, and perspective they need to help improve their own mental health.
Simultaneously, allowing employees time off work to pursue career-enhancing projects or goals can bring enormous business benefits when an employee returns to work invigorated, refreshed, and full of new ideas.
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