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Sabbaticals Are Good for Workers and Employers

Topics: Work Culture
If you're like most Americans, three things are probably true for you. First, you desperately need a break from your job. You're tired and stressed, and feeling rundown and overworked is typical for you. Second, despite this, you haven't taken a vacation in a while. And, it's not necessarily because you're not entitled – you might have unused vacation days. In that case, you feel that you can't, or shouldn't, get away from the office. You worry that it could hurt business, your individual performance, or even your career standing or trajectory. And finally, if you're like most American workers, you haven't even dared to dream about taking a sabbatical. But, maybe you should. You, and your employer, would be wise to take it under serious consideration. Here's what you need to know.

If you’re like most Americans, three things are probably true for you. First, you desperately need a break from your job. You’re tired and stressed, and feeling rundown and overworked is typical for you. Second, despite this, you haven’t taken a vacation in a while. And, it’s not necessarily because you’re not entitled – you might have unused vacation days. In that case, you feel that you can’t, or shouldn’t, get away from the office. You worry that it could hurt business, your individual performance, or even your career standing or trajectory. And finally, if you’re like most American workers, you haven’t even dared to dream about taking a sabbatical. But, maybe you should. You, and your employer, would be wise to take it under serious consideration. Here’s what you need to know.

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(Photo Credit: Samuel Zeller/Unsplash)

Sabbaticals have a long history.

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Sabbaticals have been around for a really long time. The word sabbatical is derived from the same source as the word Sabbath, which is also the reason they are traditionally taken every seven years.

Sabbaticals have been around for educators (mainly professors) and clergy for centuries. These year-long periods away from one’s regular job are traditionally used for research and travel, and for renewal as well. However, in the last 50 years or so, businesses have started offering sabbatical leave programs in greater numbers, although the financial burden of this time away is increasingly shouldered by the employee rather than the employer. Still, sabbatical leave is often something workers want, and the practice has a long history to help justify its value.

What does a sabbatical look like?

Sabbaticals often last a full year, but they don’t have to go on quite that long. Technically, a sabbatical is any extended leave from work to pursue a break, research, or travel. Often academics or clergy members volunteer their time or work toward publishing during their leave, but just like with the length of the sabbatical, the way the time is spent can vary as well. People do tend to use sabbaticals to fulfill a goal, pursue a passion, or work on a project. In this sense, they are quite different than your standard vacation.

Within the private sector, sabbatical leave varies considerably. Some companies restrict how time off can be spent while others encourage employees to use it for family time and travel. Leaves are sometimes paid and other times they’re not. And, the length of sabbaticals vary just as broadly – lasting weeks or months.

Sabbaticals are good for employees and employers.

Sabbatical leave programs offer workers more than just a needed vacation. They allow the proper time away to really replenish a person’s creativity and passion for their job.

“Being out of your ordinary surroundings makes you establish new relationships and collaborations and lets you present your ideas in a different context,” Robert Austin, dean of business administration at the University of New Brunswick told Science.

Breaking free of routine can stimulate creativity, and having time away from the regular demands of the day-in day-out happenings of the office could go a long way toward keeping workers engaged and performing. Offering sabbaticals could also help employers retain top talent. MeetUp CEO Scott Heiferman instituted his company’s sabbatical leave program for just this reason.

“When someone has been at MeetUp for seven years, it means they’re a superstar,” Brendan McGovern, MeetUp’s CFO and co-founder told Inc. “The way most folks get a nice, long break from work is they leave their job and then scratch their itch and find a new job. Scott’s idea was to give people a break and something new.”

In this era of overwork, perhaps we need to look beyond the quick fix offered by vacations and instead direct our attention toward a more complete and thorough approach to rejuvenation – the tried and true sabbatical. It makes workers happier, more creative, and it encourages and supports retention. It’s tough for workers, or employers, to argue with these kinds of results.

Tell Us What You Think

Have you ever taken a sabbatical? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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marcus johnson

I think they are great ideas, but I have been ready to return from mine for months now. I love my job at Dynamic and all things about it.

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