A sabbatical is a period of time away from work – usually longer than a standard holiday. There are lots of benefits to the employee and to the employer, because a sabbatical represents an opportunity for new experiences, fresh thinking or even updated qualifications.

Some organisations use sabbaticals as rewards for long service, whilst others are thinking more innovatively about non-work time, including regular time off for volunteering projects or family time as part of their CSR or ESG programmes. So, how can you build positive sabbatical offerings into your organisation?

What is the legal position?

There are no laws in the UK that cover sabbaticals, so HR departments and senior leaders have to create their programmes in the way that works best for each organisation. It is important, however, to make sure that your sabbatical programme doesn’t breach any existing laws – particularly those relating to discrimination and equality.

For example, a request for a sabbatical would come under the same umbrella as a request for flexible working. This means that employees should have worked for the organisation for at least 26 weeks – on a full-time or part-time basis – and should not have made any other requests for flexible working in the past 12 months.

Are sabbaticals paid?

This is really up to each organisation. If you choose to keep paying your employee during their sabbatical, then their existing contract will stay in place, including any benefits they may have. If you decide that sabbaticals will be unpaid, the employee’s contract will usually come to an end, but you can make an agreement with them to return to employment when the sabbatical is finished. You need to make sure that you have clear agreements and that both parties understand their responsibilities before the sabbatical is agreed.

Why are sabbaticals good?

Offering a sabbatical brings benefits for you and your workforce.

It brings new perspectives – whatever your employee chooses to do with their sabbatical, they will return to the workplace with new perspectives, ideas and energy.

It increases skills – your employee may choose to do a further qualification, add to their professional development, or take on a voluntary role. All of these will mean they come back to you with new skills that can benefit the business.

It prevents burnout – giving people a chance to take some time for themselves means you prevent some of the absenteeism and productivity issues around burnout.

It helps with recruitment and retention – candidates are looking for employers who are flexible and offer a wide range of opportunities. Having a good sabbatical offering will help to retain valuable employees and improve your brand reputation.

When we ran a poll on LinkedIn about sabbaticals, 43% of people said they would want to use the period to spend more time with their families, 29% would take the opportunity to travel, 14% said they would study for further qualifications, and the remainder would use the time to volunteer.

Whatever your employees – or you, if you choose to take one – decide to do with your sabbatical, it’s clear that a well-structured and thought-through sabbatical programme can help both your employees and your organisation to thrive.

To find out more about how to build a sabbatical programme, or to ask us about building a more employee-focused culture in your workplace, contact us today.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash