Sabbaticals – What Are They, and Are They Right for Your Organization?


Vacation time is valuable, and we want to pack in as many activities as possible. That’s probably where the phrase “I need a vacation from my vacation” derives. Because even though you’re enjoying yourself and making memories, all that recreationing can be exhausting. And to be honest, it’s tough to completely disconnect from work even when we’re on vacation. Most of us still check emails and follow up on the projects we had in the works when we are headed out the door.

But what if, on top of the paid time off you use for vacation, your company urged you – and even paid you – to take additional time to truly unplug? No work-related emails or phone calls. No worrying if projects are moving forward or clients are being taken care of. You’d just be given the opportunity to recharge, explore new surroundings, learn something new or immerse yourself in an activity or passion. You could then return to work with new energy and new ideas. That’s exactly what some companies have begun to implement in the form of sabbaticals.

Sabbatical vs. Vacation – What’s the Difference?

A sabbatical is similar to a vacation, with some important distinctions. The primary difference between the two is the purpose of each. While a vacation is typically recreational, a sabbatical is intended to stimulate introspection and ease the stress of professional burnout. A sabbatical provides a healthy amount of time for personal, educational or professional development. That will look different for each person but can entail things such as volunteering, writing, hiking, traveling or taking a class.

That brings us to a couple more significant differences between a sabbatical and a vacation – length and frequency. Vacations offer enough time to recharge once or twice a year. Sabbaticals, however, are notably longer and are granted infrequently. Most organizations offer sabbaticals to tenured employees, and they are often only granted once every 10 or more years. Additionally, vacation time is typically earned and must be paid out when employment ends. Sabbaticals can be paid or unpaid, and employers do not pay out unused sabbatical time.

Is a Sabbatical Program Right for Your Company?

Sabbatical programs can work regardless of industry, organizational size and company structure. However, since employees maintain as company’s day-to-day operations, it’s understandable why some company leaders are hesitant to adopt a sabbatical program. It’s important to keep in mind that these programs can be customized to work best for your company and employees. Many organizations that have embraced their own sabbatical programs have learned that, sometimes, telling employees to leave (temporarily) goes a long way in encouraging them to stay.

When a Flint employee suggested implementing a sabbatical program last year, the leadership team not only agreed the program would be an ideal way to give back to its tenured employees but would also support many of the company’s values. For example:

  • Go where you’re needed most – Employees can use this time to focus on things that matter most to them.
  • Stay curious and open-minded – Employees have the opportunity to explore new surroundings or learn something new.
  • Be the person you want to work with – Employees return with new energy, new perspective and new ideas.

This year, Flint implemented its self-funded sabbatical program, which offers employees with tenure of 10 or more years up to four weeks of paid leave plus two weeks of unpaid leave or their own PTO. By giving tenured employees time to focus on themselves with absolutely no distractions, their valued employees return to work rejuvenated and with a whole new perspective. If that sounds like an experience you’d like to add to your company culture, it might be time to explore a sabbatical program for your organization.

Keep an eye out for our future blog, which will highlight one employee’s sabbatical experience and the surprising impact it had on her personal and professional outlook.

Wendy Christiansen

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