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Passing Trend or Productive Way to Fight Burnout in Your Team?

Employee Sabbatical Leave

As mental health issues skyrocket post-Covid, the global cost of depression and anxiety has hit a whopping $1 trillion a year in lost productivity, leaving people leaders and HR experts wondering how to stem the tide.

Because with 76% of employees experiencing employee burnout affecting their productivity at least some of the time (plus 28% experiencing it ‘always’ or ‘very often’), the need for employer intervention is clear and present.

But as a small business employer, what can you do to show your teams you truly get it?

Enter, the employee sabbatical.

Over the past few years, employee sabbatical leave has become increasingly popular, with many companies encouraging their team members to take extended breaks from work… in addition to standard vacation policies for small business.

Sounds great for employees — but is it the right choice for your SMB?
In this unmissable ebook, we’ll dive into the whats, whys, and hows of extended breaks from work, plus we’ll share some examples of big brands and SMBs who have leveraged their sabbatical programs for the good of their employees (and their revenue).

What is employee sabbatical leave?

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Employee sabbatical definition: An extended break from work that offers employees time to pursue other interests or just chill the heck out. Employees are still technically employees and they’ll return to work after their time away, but during their sabbatical they’ll be 100% beholden to no one. ⛱️ 🌴

Sabbaticals have been around since the beginning of time (no joke — in Biblical times farmers took a sabbatical every seven years to let their fields rejuvenate👩🏾‍🌾), but in business the practice is more recent, edging into popularity around 1969.

But even after decades of employee sabbatical leave, few companies offer the opportunity for extended breaks. That is, until 2018 when the idea took off with around 15% of US companies taking the plunge.

Here’s how an employee sabbatical leave typically works:

  • After a certain time period working for your company (usually around five years) employees are offered sabbatical leave – the length of a sabbatical varies, the important thing is that it’s agreed on ahead of time.
  • Normal paid holiday days still apply. For example, if you take a sabbatical of one month, you’re still entitled to the 20 days holiday you usually get.
  • Only around a third of sabbaticals are paid, so employees often take a financial hit if they choose to go for it.
  • On sabbatical, employees often have complete freedom to do whatever they want, but occasionally companies encourage different activities that will enhance their work when they return.
  • There’s no legal obligation for employers to offer sabbaticals, or to grant them if it’s not considered appropriate.
  • If employee sabbaticals are unpaid, the employment contract is normally suspended, meaning no other contractual benefits are due either.
  • Small businesses do offer sabbatical leave, but it is slightly less common (although it doesn’t need to be!)

Psst! Although we love offering you the latest HR info, we’re not lawyers, and none of this information should be taken as legal advice. If you’re interested to know more about the legal side of employee sabbaticals, get in touch with a legal pro for expert help.

10 reasons your SMB should offer sabbatical leave

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Despite an increasing number of companies jumping on the employee sabbatical bandwagon, not all employers are convinced of their value. But with so many employees eager to take a break, it’s time to give the employee sabbatical a second look.

Here’s why sabbatical leave can make a great job perk, even at smaller companies:

  1. Sabbaticals reduce burnout: For overworked, over-stressed employees, an extended break can reduce strain and give them a much-needed breath of fresh air. Plus, research shows taking breaks is key to productivity.
  2. Employees pick up new ideas: Heading to the same office day-in, day-out can leave employees feeling uninspired. But in a new environment, with new tasks to complete, the possibilities for picking up inspo (and bringing it back to the team) is huge.
  3. The C-level team can develop better leadership skills: According to a study for nonprofit execs, 60% of employees who took sabbatical leave noted their directors became more effective due to the planning around their extended time off.
  4. The rest of the team has space to grow: While your employee is off enjoying their sabbatical leave, the rest of the team will have to develop new skills to help pick up the slack. Great for newer employees looking for new ways to grow.
  5. Companies get to show they care: Employees want a great work-life balance, and if companies can show they care about that, they’ll be able to hang onto their best people longer.
  6. Employees can learn new skills: For many employees, work often takes over so that their urge to volunteer or learn a new language gets overlooked. Given time and space to just be means employees are more likely to dip into their creativity and pick up new skills.
  7. Sabbaticals can be a powerful hiring tool: Paid sabbaticals are one of the highest sought-after benefits, with around 66% of people more interested in working for companies that offer them.
  8. Employees stick around for longer: If employees are thinking of leaving but have only got a year until their sabbatical kicks in, they’re more likely to stick around. Genius.
  9. Companies get a solid ROI boost: For every $1 put into mental health programs, there’s a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. Need we say more?
  10. Employee turnover decreases: Who’d want to leave a company with such awesome perks? Answer: Less than 3% of employees, according to this HuffPost article.

4 employers that leverage a paid or unpaid sabbatical leave to boost employee 💖

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There’s a reason top brands are at the top — and great employee experience has a lot to do with it.

Here are a few companies that know sabbaticals leave employees feeling relaxed, happy and ready to work. 💆

  1. Worship.agency: Conversion optimization and user experience agency worship.agency took the leap into employee sabbaticals back in 2019 — they now have one very happy worker, zero regrets, and plans to offer more perks to their other employees.
  2. Citigroup Inc.: When the Wall Street bank Citigroup did some post-pandemic research into employee wellbeing, they weren’t impressed. That’s why they invested in an employee sabbatical scheme that allows team members a break of 12 weeks after five years’ employment with 25% pay, plus the opportunity to volunteer for a charity for 4-weeks at 100% pay.
  3. Epic Systems: Epic Systems offer four-weeks of paid leave every five years. They’ve even taken it one step further by offering to cover employee travel costs during this type of leave — but only if they travel to somewhere they’ve never been before. They even run a Sabbatablog for solid sabbatical travel inspo. Can we go too?
  4. Hubspot: As well as allowing their employees unlimited vacation that they can tap into whenever they choose, HubSpot offers a generous fully-paid four-week sabbatical plus $5K spending money after five years of employment. Check out their paid sabbatical leave photo album to see what their employees get up to.

Build a work sabbatical program for better business

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With employee mental health at an all-time low, it’s time for human resources at companies of any size to start thinking seriously about giving their people a much-needed break.

From boosted productivity to increased candidate interest, many brands have already found ways to harness the positive impact of extended breaks from work after a given number of years of service — and the number of companies getting involved is rising by the day. 

The benefits are huge for employees as well as the business — even if they lose out on pay, the opportunity to take a breather when they don’t feel guilty, learn new skills and see the world is often too good to miss out on.

So, why not take the lead on employee experience and create a sabbatical scheme that works for both your people and your business?

Are you ready?

Ready to build an awesome workplace experience from day one?

Get your free Breezy HR trial today!

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