Money & Business

Beyond Vacations: The Case for the Sabbatical

By / Aug 14, 2017 (iStock Editorial/Getty Images Plus)

Recent research notes that while sabbaticals are uncommon in the corporate world, they do have their benefits—both for the employee and employer.

We hear a lot about how it’s important for employees to take vacations. But what about sabbaticals?

There’s a difference, of course—a sabbatical is much longer than a traditional vacation, sometimes a year in length and possibly paid, and is designed to benefit long-term employees by giving them an opportunity to try a different experience on for size. Sabbaticals are often used for volunteer work, long-term travel, or additional education.

These programs are more associated with academia than the corporate world. But the companies that do offer sabbaticals are no slouches—among them American Express, Nike, McDonald’s, and eBay.

According to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2017 Employee Benefits report [PDF], only 12 percent of employers offer an unpaid sabbatical program. Even fewer (5 percent) offer a paid option. Over the past few years, these numbers have stayed relatively steady, although paid sabbaticals have seen some growth.

(Another study finds a starker picture: A June 2016 WorldatWork survey [PDF] found that just 10 percent of organizations offered sabbatical programs in 2016, down from 15 percent in 2010.)

In most cases, sabbaticals—effectively “gap years” for adults—aren’t covered under the current employment structure. As The New York Times put it last month: “As a result, most adult gap experiences require quitting a job.”

A recent article in Harvard Business Review makes the case that more employers should consider offering sabbaticals, citing various studies that highlight the benefits to both employees (who get a chance to recharge their batteries and reduce stress) and to employers (who gain versatility by temporarily replacing the worker).

“At the very least, having people rotate out for an extended period of time allows organizations to stress-test their organizational chart,” HBR contributor David Burkus wrote. “Ideally, no team should be so dependent on any one person that productivity grinds to a halt during an extended vacation. And while it may look good on paper, the only way to know for sure is to test it.”

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now, a former newspaper guy, and a man who is dangerous when armed with a good pun. More »

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