As employees put more emphasis on work-life balance, companies are catering to their needs by offering concierge services, massage therapists and in-office gyms. While these company perks make the workday less stressful, they don’t truly acknowledge the need for employees to escape from the office and their work life. That’s where the employee sabbatical comes in.
These work hiatuses are great for employees and companies — employees have an extended amount of time to relax and rejuvenate, so when they return to work, they are ready to dive in with new ideas. Yet only 4 percent of U.S. companies offer a paid sabbatical program and 16 percent offer an unpaid sabbatical program, according to the Society of Human Resource Management.
Most company sabbatical programs offer employees who have been with the company for a certain number of years a month-long vacation. Healthcare tech company Epic Systems extends that offer by covering the costs for an employee to travel to a new country, but it’s only company-paid if it’s a never-traveled-to-before destination, according to Business Insider.
Benefits of Sabbatical Programs
It’s understandable that companies are hesitant to implement a sabbatical program, paid or unpaid, since employees are valuable resources, but companies with sabbaticals reap the benefits of such perks.
1. Employees return rejuvenated and often feel like they have a new job. After working the same job day in and day out, employees often experience burnout and don’t feel encouraged or motivated to go to work. An extended vacation is the perfect way for employees to recharge and come back to work with renewed focus. "They are giving us the opportunity to have some reflection time and rejuvenate," said Kelley Kirker, a concierge employee at email marketing company Emma. "There is a unique exhale when you have a month off."
2. Employees find inspiration for new ways to grow the business. When a MeetUp software engineer returned from his sabbatical in Berlin, he wasn’t excited to be back in Silicon Valley and instead wanted to move to Berlin, a sprawling city for tech talent. MeetUp proposed that he open a software engineering office in Berlin to capitalize on the great engineering talent and expand to a new city.
3. Employees can focus on personal goals. During the busy work week, personal goals to start a new boot camp, learn a new language or volunteer at the local soup kitchen can fall to the wayside because work takes priority. "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," says Nancy Bearg, co-author of "Reboot Your Life: Energizing Your Career and Life by Taking Break." She says, "It broadens perspective and makes personal and professional priorities clearer."
4. Younger employees have the opportunity to grow in their roles. When more experienced employees take a sabbatical, the rest of the team has to pitch in to do the work that the manager usually handles. This provides a great chance for younger employees to take on new job tasks and expand their skill sets. "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."
5. Employees are encouraged to stay with the company. Many young employees jump from one job to the next, often spending as little as one or two years with a company. Sabbaticals that are rewarded based on time with the company encourage employees to remain loyal to a company for an extended amount of time.
6. Companies show they care about what employees want and need. Employees want to work for a company that understands the balance between work and life, and the younger generation is demanding that their personal lives continue, whether personal and work life are mixed or kept separate. "In older generations, you did everything you had to do for your company at the expense of your family," said Steve Hayes, founder of recruiting firm The Human Capital Group. "Younger generations realize there is a balance we need to draw."
7. Companies experience reduced employee turnover. When Clif Bar asked its employees what perks they valued, sabbaticals ranked at the top, and partially as a result of offering time off to 7-year employees, the company has less than 3 percent turnover, according to Huffington Post.
While companies may resist the idea of sabbaticals, they provide great benefits to employees and companies. In a workplace where employees are at the center and must be valued or else they’ll leave, companies must be innovative with how they’re attracting and retaining talent.