Sabbatical Programs: Are They Right For You?

Sabbatical Programs: Are They Right For You?


“How can we encourage employees to take time off and disconnect?”

Though not a new question, more recently, this is the question many employers are asking at greater frequency. The pandemic forced shifts in the way employees work. Across nearly every industry and sector, substantial populations of employees shifted to remote work, and for those that did not, the stressors and risks of working through the pandemic contributed to behavioral shifts in employees. Of all the changes in work, one notable change is the way in which employees have disconnected and recharged, or rather have not in the last year.

Even before the changes in work brought on by the pandemic, employers understandably have had a vested interest in encouraging and supporting breaks from work. Taking time off from work reduces employee stress levels, improves overall health, and makes employees more productive and more likely to stay with their current employer. Internal research by EY in the U.S. and Canada found that for every 10 vacation hours a person took, average performance reviews were 8% higher. Furthermore, every 40 hours of free time extended an employee’s stay at the company by eight months. With effective programs and strategies to encourage taking time off, employees can not only be more confident about doing so, but they are also happier and more productive1.

Sabbatical programs are one of the many strategies some employers have implemented to foster a culture of employee wellbeing, reward tenure, and curb burnout. While there are other perks, sabbatical programs offer a unique opportunity for employees to take an extended leave of absence that is not related to medical or family leave. A sabbatical is different than vacation and paid time off (PTO) because it is not an accrued bank of time off that would otherwise be subject to carryover, pay out, and other labor- and wage-related requirements as applicable in certain states. Another difference is that sabbaticals are often reserved for employees who have met a specific tenure with the company and may serve as a reward to recognize employees’ long-term commitment. In addition, sabbaticals typically provide employees with multiple weeks of time off, whereas vacation and PTO policies may limit time off to one (1) to two (2) weeks of utilization at a time.

Pacific Resources conducted market research to gain broader insights into the design of sabbatical programs among employers who do offer them to employees.

Pacific Resources Research: Key Findings

  • Eligibility: The majority of employers in the study made the sabbatical available to either full-time employees, or both full-time and part-time employees, as opposed to limiting the program to a specific job title or position. On average, employers required a minimum tenure of seven (7) years before allowing eligibility to take sabbatical leave.
  • Paid vs. Unpaid: Almost all provide a paid sabbatical program.
  • Entitlement: On average, the minimum length of sabbatical leave provided by the researched employers is five (5) weeks. The maximum length of sabbatical leave, on average, is seven (7) weeks.

Notably, there is a wide range of employers, across industries and size, who offer sabbatical programs. In this research, employer industries included software/tech, retail, hospitality, professional services, restaurants, and manufacturing. Meanwhile, employer sizes ranged from 1,000 to 330,000 employees. The data is clear: sabbatical programs are not just for academia and can work for employers of all sizes.

It should also be noted that many of the employers who offered sabbatical programs were also recognized by Great Place to Work for their efforts and successes as best-in-class employers. Offering a sabbatical program alone will not earn employers this recognition, but it is no accident that among best-in-class employers, there are programs made available to employees to encourage and support their health and wellbeing and proactively curb burnout.

Whether employers offer a sabbatical program or not, one directive is clear: employees need to feel supported and secure in their desire and efforts to take time off to rest, recharge, and return to work with renewed energy and motivation.

Pacific Resources can help you assess the current state of your leave programs, identify opportunities to better support the needs for employee wellbeing, and determine whether a sabbatical program is right for you. If you are interested in learning more, contact your Pacific Resources consultant.


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Pacific Resources Absence Team

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