Question: I’m a CEO of a small company, and rather than guess at it we recently asked our employees what perks they valued. Flexibility and sabbaticals ranked at the top. I’ve mostly heard of sabbaticals in higher education and academic institutions. What should we consider in our decision making to add employee sabbaticals?
Answer: Let me start by congratulating you on recognizing the importance of asking your employees what they value! In the excitement to do “more” so often company leadership can be presumptive about what employees want. Pulse polls and employee surveys are effective mechanisms to hear directly from your staff about what matters to them.
The Value of Flexibility in the Workplace
In Gallup’s 2022 State of the Global Workplace Report, employee wellbeing is listed as the new workplace imperative. Employee wellbeing is achieved through various ways including flexibility, inclusion, and learning & development. In short, employee engagement is highest where workplace culture is positive AND where growth, respect and accountability are prioritized.
The Covid pandemic taught us many lessons related to the value of flexibility. Most workplaces had to pivot to stay relevant and meet the needs of their customers and stakeholders. As employees experience their return to the workplace, flexibility is more important. With personal priorities having shifted, employees want to spend time in balance, pursuing enriching experiences outside of work. This is where sabbaticals enter as a compatible solution.
Why Sabbaticals Make Sense?
Sabbaticals, also known as leaves of absence, can be mutually beneficial for employees and businesses. Employees relax and rejuvenate by way of extended time away and they often return with a renewed sense of commitment and innovation which benefits their team and organization. That’s a win/win if there ever was one!
When considering whether a sabbatical program is right for your organization, you’ll want to determine criteria for eligibility, how often the leave can be accessed, and whether it will be paid or unpaid. Many organizations rely on employee tenure to determine eligibility and leave times can last between two and eight weeks depending on the industry, resources, and culture of the organization. No matter the duration, most organizations caveat that all time must be taken at once.
Benefits of a Sabbatical
While it’s understandable for companies to have trepidation around implementing sabbaticals, there are several advantages of having them.
- Relax, relate, release: After earning the benefit through tenure, employees can look forward to and take an extended break from work allowing them to disconnect, focus on personal goals and reset. This benefits both the individual and the company as they can return with a sense of renewal and fresh perspective.
- Growth & development: When planned appropriately, the extended break provides an opportunity for less experienced employees to temporarily assume new responsibilities and project roles. This will result in new skill development and cross-training opportunities.
- Prioritizes balance: Sabbaticals are a way to extend the employee experience allowing it to become a full circle, both in and out of the office. Leaders can show they not only care about employees while at work, but that they’re also concerned with how employees manage in their broader lives.
Planning Tip – If your organization is planning to implement a sabbatical program, you must consider doing so in a way that feels organic to your workplace culture, OR NOT, if your goal is to shift your culture in a new direction. Utilize your current total reward offering as a starting point and review external studies as a guide rail. Be crystal clear on your reasons for implementation (including the intended outcomes) and the remaining priorities will be to determine logistics like paid vs. unpaid, sabbatical length, and eligibility requirements.
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