Do you think anyone on your team would benefit from an extended break from work?

This type of extended leave is called a sabbatical. It’s where people take a large chunk of time off work, sometimes up to a year, and return to their job after. Sounds generous, but make no mistake, sabbaticals are gaining in popularity with a lot of people-focused businesses offering them.

To offer sabbaticals as a perk, you need a policy that explains how the process works—including who's eligible, how they get approval for one, and any conditions attached. You’ll also need to figure out how your company functions whilst they’re away.

Sabbaticals, policies, conditions...seems like a lot of think about! Fear not, we're going to break it all down here and show you how to create a sabbatical policy that works for your team.

What is a sabbatical leave policy?

Simply put: a sabbatical is a break from work that’s often used for travel, to learn new skills, or to explore personal goals. It’s longer than a period of annual leave but shorter than a career break, usually lasting between 3 and 12 months.

Your policy is the document that outlines everything your team needs to know about taking sabbatical leave. It includes:

  1. Eligibility
  2. Notice period
  3. Duration - how long a sabbatical can be
  4. Frequency - how often you can can take one
  5. Whether it’s paid or unpaid
  6. How to handle changes
  7. Terms of employment
  8. Working limits
  9. Purpose of leave
  10. Guidance on returning to work
  11. How to manage sabbatical requests

Why should I create a sabbatical policy?

There’s no doubt sabbaticals are a great way to inject some vitality into your team.

Your colleagues will come back to their desk brimming with positivity, well-rested, and ready to spring back into action—three things anyone would love to see from their team.

Sabbaticals are also beneficial for employers because they can:

Increase retention

Did you know that 12% of people quit their job because of poor work-life balance?

By offering a sabbatical policy, you’re giving people freedom to pursue interests and goals that are important to them. They don’t need to accuumulate or rely on other types of absence such as blocks of annual leave or parental leave to have some time at home for follow a life long dream.

Your team will become more loyal. They’ll know they have a supportive employer—one who understands work is not the be all and end all… and that sometimes, they need a break from their job. (Because let’s face it, we all need a break at some stage!)

Sabbaticals give them time to do that—and increase your chances of retaining key team members. It’s no coincidence that the team at Clif Bars rate sabbaticals as their biggest company perk, and have a less than 3% staff turnover rate.

Attract new talent

It’s not just your existing team that will enjoy a better work-life balance through your sabbatical policy. Flexible working arrangements and work-life balance are highly rated by job seekers looking for a new role.

Research by LinkedIn suggests that companies with flexible work arrangements (including sabbaticals) see a 127% higher headcount growth.

You’ll attract top talent with a sabbatical policy already in-place.

Healthier and happier team members

A long break from work leaves you coming back feeling refreshed and re-energised. In fact, it’s so beneficial that studies show an uplift in the wellbeing of those who took a sabbatical.

If you get this right, in the long-term, offering sabbaticals will help towards a reduction in the number of people taking sick leave.

Crafting your sabbatical policy

11 things to include in your company’s sabbatical policy

While there is no legal requirement on you to offer sabbaticals or career breaks, ACAS guidance says that if you do, you should have a clear policy.

A clear policy sets the rules around what is (and isn’t) happening during their sabbatical. The guidance brings awareness to the perk. It helps your team understand and visualise what they can and can't do. They can start to think about how it might work for them, when they could take one, how long for. Sabbaticals aren't a spare of the moment decision, they take a lot of planning - a clear policy is a big help.

Here are 11 important things to think about when writing your company’s sabbatical policy.

1. Eligibility

Can every colleague take a sabbatical? Chances are, you’ll only offer a sabbatical to people who meet certain criteria.

That might be:

  • Length of service: Team members with more than 2-5 years of continuous service?
  • Clashes with other key team members off on leave during the same period of time.
  • Whether they’ve already taken sabbatical leave in the past.

It goes without saying not every team member will be eligible for a sabbatical. But your eligibility criteria needs to be applied similarly for both full time and part-timers.

You want to have some ground rules, you don't want new hires to join your company and dissapear on sabbatical a few months later. Likewise you want to avoid colleagues in the same department taking extended leave at the same time or in a way that disrupts your ability to run the business smoothly.

2. Notice period

Next, start to think about how much time you’d need to prepare for someone's absence.

The notice period is the number of weeks (or months) you’ll have to plan for their extended leave so things don’t fall through the cracks while they’re away.

You could scale this based on the duration of the sabbatical. Two weeks notice might be fine for a month off, but you might prefer three or six months’ notice for a year-long break.

Remember: someone on sabbatical won’t always be on hand to answer questions while they’re away. Having a minimum notice period gives you time to plan ahead, to make sure their work is covered and you won't need to reach out in panic once they've gone.

3. Duration - how long can a sabbatical be

Most sabbaticals last between 3 and 12 months. Over 12 months and we are into career break territory (and during this time, a contract of employment normally ceases).

Regardless of the time you allow, make sure the maximum period of sabbatical leave is clearly stated in your policy. That way, your colleagues know exactly how long they can take off—and you safely avoid any awkward conversations like, “can I take three years on sabbatical?" 😮

4. Frequency - how often you can take one

Sabbaticals aren’t an everyday request, they are few and far between. But you might want to put a cap on how often they can take a sabbatical in any given period of time.

Some companies allow a one-month sabbatical every two years. Others limit six-month sabbaticals to every 5 years. It’s totally up to you and works for your company; just weigh it up against the work involved in planning and manging the absences.

A long as it's manageable it’s a good starting point. Policies aren't set in stone, you can always tweak this part further down the line.

5. Paid vs. unpaid sabbatical leave

Here in the UK, most sabbaticals are unpaid. That’s because there’s no legal requirement for them to be paid—so in most cases, they aren’t. But don't let that sway your decision, buck the trend, stand out from the crowd to make your company more attractive.

You can choose to pay your team during a sabbatical. It doesn't have to be full pay, it doesn't have to be the full duration. You might consider paying during sabbaticlas as a reward for long-term employees. For example: you could offer 6-month paid sabbatical leave for colleagues after 10 years of service.

This part of your sabbatical agreement can be assessed on a case-by-case basis. But for now, decide the eligibility requirements for a paid sabbatical and make them very clear in your policy.

6. How to handle changes to sabbatical leave

While you can have a policy in place to handle sabbaticals, sometimes, things can change. People might want to cut their sabbatical short, or need to extend it due to unforeseen circumstances—like travel disruption.

Your policy should explain what happens in cases like this, and how much notice they should give (if possible).

For example: the team member should communicate with their line manager one month before they’re expected to return to work, and again a week before the sabbatical ends. That way, you’ll plan for any last-minute changes as soon as possible; not the morning they’re due back in.

7. Terms of employment

Next, start to think about whether your team member will still be “employed” during their sabbatical leave.

Again, this isn’t straightforward. If the sabbatical is unpaid, employment is generally considered "suspended", so no benefits are required to be given. Still, you might want to continue to offer these throughout—especially if your sabbaticals are a way to reward long-term service.

When someone is on sabbatical, it’s best to keep communication channels open to keep them abreast of any important changes to employment that might affect them—like changes to your company handbook or general employment policies:

Write a section in your sabbatical policy that shares how you’ll communicate. If someone is planning to go off the grid during their sabbatical, have at least one way to get in touch.

8. Working limits

Some people take sabbaticals to completely get away from work. Some like learning a new skill, traveling, or spending time with their family.

But what if boredom creeps in, or they want to keep in touch with work. Are they allowed to open their laptop, check their emails, have a call?

What about working for another company, or more likely a charity?

Some companies limit whether you can take up other (paid or unpaid) work while on sabbatical. You should plan for them to not work at all. If they do, that’s a bonus.

Even if you’re flexible with this section of your agreement, it’s still worth including a note in your policy that they can’t work for a competitor during this time. That’s definitely not the idea of a sabbatical.

9. Purpose of leave

We know there's a whole stack of reasons why people might want to take a sabbatical.

You might want to restrict or define the situations where you’ll grant sabbatical leave. Can someone take a year off to travel the world? Or do you only allow sabbaticals in situations where their leave will directly (and positively) impact their job?

Darrell Rosenstein, founder, The Rosenstein Group explains:

“Can eligible employees take an extended leave for personal purposes, or do they need to use the time pursuing professional activities that will add value to the organization?

While some companies consider taking a break to travel and recharge a win-win for the employee and the company, others want the time spent away to be used on work-related projects.”

10. Returning to work

The next section of your sabbatical policy is your return to work program. This does exactly what it says on the tin: explains what’ll happen when they return to work.

At minimum, your return to work program should:

  • Confirm whether they will return to the same role
  • Explain any training or refamiliarisation you have planned for their return

Remember that their job must be open once they return. They can take legal action if they can’t return to their job (or a similar one) after a sabbatical.

11. How you manage sabbatical requests

If someone wants to apply for sabbatical leave, you’ll need a process to handle their request.

Your best avenue here is to follow the same process as a regular holiday request. If you don't already use you probably want to try Timetastic, so you can manage those requests easily without the constant back-and-forth of emails (which end up getting lost anyway.)

Your team members are already familiar with that holiday leave request process. It's fairly easy to create a 'Leave Type' for sabbaticals so you can keep track of them seperate to other types of holiday requests.

Bear in mind that your management team might need extra information about the sabbatical—especially when it comes to notice periods. If you get enough notice though, it can all be approved easily. The big conversations you’ll need to have come when you’re planning for their absence.

Make managing sabbaticals easier

More than anything the process of creating a policy forces time to think about what you as a business can work with, what's fair for you team, what will motivate them.

It doesn't have to be lengthy, it shouldn't be written in legalese. Just something nice and easy so that everyone understands the perk.