Why companies offer sabbaticals to long-term employees

Why companies offer sabbaticals to long-term employees

The concept of a sabbatical may call up an image of an academic taking a long break from lecturing to conduct research or write a book, but sabbaticals aren’t unheard of in the business world, either. Whether it’s a few weeks or as much as a year, sabbaticals are valued for giving employees a chance to recharge their batteries while holding their jobs until they come back.

In the Society for Human Resources 2011 Employee Benefits research report, only 4 percent of the companies surveyed offered paid sabbaticals to employees. However, 15 percent offered an unpaid sabbatical program.

Sabbaticals help attract, refresh and retain employees

“Sabbaticals have many purposes,” says Catherine Allen, co-author of Reboot Your Life: Energizing Your Career and Life By Taking A Break. “Refresh and renew after burnout; education; caring for family; health; travel and learning; exploring new career options; following a passion or hobby.”

“For anyone who has worked on overload for a period of years, it is a way to clear the mind,” says Nancy Bearg, Allen’s co-author. “While on the sabbatical, the employee has an opportunity to rediscover old interests and friends, explore new ideas, travel, get fit, do retirement pre-planning or a special project, take care of family needs, and much more. It broadens perspective and makes personal and professional priorities clearer.”

Employers benefit from offering sabbaticals because these rare, extended periods of time off help attract and retain valued people, creating employee loyalty and engagement, and energizing the workforce, Allen says. “The millennials are very interested in sabbaticals, and it is a way to attract and keep them motivated,” for example.

Sabbaticals can also help strengthen the company through employees who are left behind, Bearg says. “While the employee is away, management and employees must step in, cross train, fill in, and find new ways to cooperate,” she says. “All of this builds greater depth and experience and flexibility.”

Real world examples

Capterra founder and CEO Mike Ortner says his company offers a five-week fully paid sabbatical to each employee every five years. “The point is to give them an opportunity to get away from their work and do something that they would otherwise only get a chance to do if they were in between jobs,” he says. “Hopefully, they come back refreshed and ready to do even greater things at Capterra. The only requirement is that they give a company-wide presentation about their experience when they return! I got the idea from my own sabbatical that I took in between jobs, prior to starting Capterra. I went to Africa to do volunteer work and had amazing experience.”

David Baum at Thoughtworks, an IT development company with more than 2,000 employees, says the company has a leave policy that allows eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of paid time off from work after every 10 years of continuous service. “Employees may use the time off at their discretion, however it is recommended that employees use the time to enrich their lives or improve the world around them,” he says.

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