It doesn’t seem that long ago that employees were reluctant to use all of their vacation days in a given year for fear of management discovering they were replaceable. It felt safer to take a long weekend instead of a two-week cross-country trip. How the tables have turned.
Coming out of the pandemic and amid the great resignation, employees now have the upper hand in many ways. Employers are realizing that employees have an abundance of choices when it comes to where they work (if they even want to have an employer).
A survey by Gartner revealed that over 90% of HR leaders are concerned about employee turnover in the immediate future. Jamie Kohn, research director for the Gartner HR practice, said, “Flexibility is no longer a perk to offer employees; it is now the expectation. Organizations that provide employees with greater choice will win the war for talent.”
Here, we'll examine the rise of the work sabbatical in corporate America:
- What is a sabbatical from work?
- How to take a sabbatical from work
- Work sabbatical ideas
- Should I take a sabbatical from work?
Read on to learn more.
The “work sabbatical” is a perk that’s been around a long time, but is gaining increased traction. Unlike traditional benefits like retirement plans and life, health, and disability income insurance, sabbaticals aren’t yet expected, but they are a perk that is getting more print.
Jamie Johnson, a career advisor at The University of Phoenix, sums up the definition of a work sabbatical nicely — an opportunity to take a company-approved break from your regular work duties, allowing you to recharge, renew, and pursue personal interests. They are an additional benefit that supplements vacation time or personal leave.
While vacation days and PTO are measured in days or weeks, sabbaticals are measured in months. The length of time will vary depending on the company, but they can last anywhere from one to six months, sometimes more.
Sabbaticals have been part of academia for years, with tenured professors enjoying them every 3-5 years. But corporate America is now stepping up — Facebook, PayPal, Adobe, and Charles Schwab all allow, and encourage, their employees to take a 30-day paid-sabbatical every five years they’re with the company.
If you work for a small, family-run business, it may not seem realistic to request an additional month or two off from work, with pay, for some extra time to recharge your batteries. Most small businesses do well to provide 2-3 weeks of annual paid vacation for employees, in addition to paid holidays. But, you never know what your employer will offer without asking. Small companies are also feeling the pinch when it comes to attracting and retaining employees.
If you work for a company like Facebook or Schwab that offers sabbaticals to their employees, logging onto your HR software and reserving the dates is not too complicated. Of course, you will need to talk with your manager about it.
But what if you need to blaze the trail and initiate your sabbatical? You may get a raised eyebrow when you bring the idea up with the boss, and they’re probably going to have reservations, and questions, before signing off on your request.
Sometimes, the best defense is a good offense. Go into your discussion with your manager having a plan that will both reassure them and address logistical concerns. Your plan should cover how your responsibilities will be handled... who, what, when, and how. Department quotas and company goals will still need to be met in your absence.
Also, be prepared to sell the boss on why your sabbatical will benefit the company. According to the Harvard Business Review, not only will the company benefit by having a “rested employee who has increased psychological resources, but the company will have the opportunity to stress-test the organizational chart and give aspiring leaders a chance to grow.”
Reinforcing your commitment to the company should also be part of your approach. It’s likely that your manager is going to wonder in the back of their mind if you’ll ever return from your sabbatical; if it’s not just a way for you to check out other opportunities or start your own business.
Let the boss know that’s not the case (if it isn’t). You might tell them, for example, that while you’re looking forward to some extended time off, you’ll also be excited to get back to work when the time comes, and you’ll be better than ever from being refreshed and re-energized.
[ Related: The do's & don'ts of mental health days at work ]
Now that your sabbatical is on the schedule, what’s your plan (the boss is also going to ask you that)? Telling them that binging on Netflix and sleeping in is probably not what they need to hear — nor would it necessarily be good for you.
Here are some ways you could spend your time that will provide tangible benefits.
Hopping on a train or plane is once again a reality. Maybe you were relegated to working from home the past couple of years, and you’re now ready to spread your wings and get back out there. A sabbatical offers you the chance to take your time and experience places you’ve always wanted to go, not merely visit them. You’ll be able to immerse yourself in the culture, not just be a tourist.
What have you wanted to learn about but never seemed to have the time to do it? A sabbatical is a perfect time to become an authority on something and create your own YouTube channel, complete a chapter of your formal education, master a skill like coding or graphic design, learn a new language... the possibilities are endless.
[ Related: The benefits of upskilling & reskilling ]
Taking a sabbatical gives you the time and opportunity to pursue physical challenges you’ve not been able to with just a few weeks of vacation every year. For example, maybe you’ve always wanted to climb Mount Whitney or some other mountain and never had the time to train for it. Or perhaps you’ve wanted to hike the Pacific Crest or Appalachian Trail. Having time to prepare your body for a feat of endurance doesn’t come along often, but it becomes a reality with a sabbatical.
Do you have a book or painting inside of you that’s been waiting to come out? A sabbatical will give you the uninterrupted time you need to tune into your creative self for an extended period. You may not be able to finish that novel in just three months, but you’ll feel great going back to work knowing that you finally started it.
Only you can answer that, but consider this: have you ever gone back to work after a vacation of a week or two and felt like you needed a vacation from your vacation?
A sabbatical will give you that long break you haven’t had since your last summer vacation back in grade school. You’ll never know just how much you’ve needed an extended period away from work until you’ve experienced one.
Start the conversation with your manager today — they may be much more accepting of the idea than you think.
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