Sabbaticals — From Academia to the Mainstream

by Jobbatical January 14, 2015

Sabbaticals used to be the preserve of academic circles, the very word conjuring up an image of a bearded gentleman in tweed taking time out from teaching to research the primary methods of construction employed in mediaeval shipbuilding, or further mankind’s understanding of remote Amazonian tribesmen through an intense immersion in their culture. For some time now, however, sabbaticals have been slipping more and more into the mainstream. We have now arrived at the point when one of the measures of a great employee benefits package can be how progressive a company’s policy on career breaks and sabbaticals is.

Truly flexible benefits

Changes in both employer and employee are responsible for this shift. On the part of the employee, the idea of flexibility in benefits is far more important now than fifteen years ago. What was simply an HR buzzword is now a corporate expectation, and a great benefits package will now be a holistic mix of financial incentive matched with lifestyle benefits, such as healthcare, flexible holidays and support to achieve balance in work and life. Modern employees, with the millennial generation blazing the trail, look for experience and balance, rather than simply promises of deferred financial reward — making career breaks a great incentive for companies to hook new talent and retain undecided employees.

The benefit for the employer goes further than this — with the war for talent being fought on all fronts, businesses need new ways to retain their brightest and best. If an employee needs to take time out — for personal reasons, or to recover from illness for example — the company can not afford to lose the investment made in the individual, and looks instead to find creative ways of allowing them to remain employed. This idea stretches further to those employees looking to pursue other interests, study, or take a short term change in scenery to develop personally — if the company values the individual, then the opportunity of a career break can suit everyone.

A cure for modern ills

Sabbaticals, indeed, have had plenty of good press — with advocates suggesting that the break provided through a sabbatical is a great way to prevent burn out, and many progressive businesses offering sabbatical leave for this very reason. For the individual the opportunity for a short term change can be as appealing as a rest, and provide the fuel needed to return to work afterwards with renewed vigour. The business benefits further from being able to use the time to test our their succession planning, placing another high potential employee into the vacant role for a time, increasing internal development opportunities and improving the talent pipeline — one of the key challenges for many businesses — for the longer term.

Sabbaticals, as part of a great employee welfare and benefits package, can even have a quantifiable benefit on company value, report the experts behind the ‘Great Place to Work’ annual survey. The companies listed in their ‘Best Companies’ list in the US and UK have beaten the market by 2 or 3 percent every year for the last 26 years, even when variables such as industry performance and other factors for stock performance are accounted for. With their popularity amongst high quality employees, their potential inherent business benefits, and the increasing need for agility in business succession planning, the future of the career break is bright.

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