Sabbatical leave: How it works, key benefits, and FAQs

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If you ever wanted to enrich your career and prevent burnout by embarking on a self development journey, you may be wondering if a sabbatical leave is right for you. Not only does an extended leave allow you to grow your skills, but it also gives you a break from work to come back refreshed and ready to be productive.

Sabbatical leave is where you take an extended break from work for professional development reasons such as traveling for career growth. Since every company has unique policies around taking a sabbatical, it’s important to understand if your employer offers sabbatical leave and, if so, how it works and if you qualify. 

To make it simple, we’ve put together the most frequently asked questions around sabbatical leave and included some of the key benefits related to taking a leave of absence.

What is sabbatical leave?

Sabbatical leave is a period in which a team member takes an extended break from work. While the reasons someone would take an extended leave differ, the purpose of a sabbatical is for professional self development. 

Sabbatical leave can also help prevent burnout and combat overwork by giving team members time and space to prioritize their mental health. In 2019, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon. And, according to the Anatomy of Work Index 2021, 7 in 10 (71%) knowledge workers experienced burnout at least once in the past year.  

What is sabbatical leave?

Whether you’re looking to travel to different countries to enrich your perspective or to partake in a fellowship led by industry leaders, there are many reasons to participate in a sabbatical leave. 

From developing your skills to adding innovative ideas to your team, a sabbatical leave is an excellent experience if you have the opportunity to take one. It can help increase workforce productivity through improved morale, which decreases the likelihood of burnout.  

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How long is sabbatical leave?

The availability and length of your sabbatical will depend on your organization’s policy and your country of employment, but it is generally anywhere from a month to a year long. 

Work with your manager to discuss how long of a sabbatical is right for you. While every company differs, a 12-week sabbatical is the most common. The length of your sabbatical may also depend on local and federal regulations.

It’s important to understand the differences between a sabbatical vs. a leave of absence. Other leaves—such as sick leave or disability leave—have specific purposes and legal requirements based on the causes and requirements of the leave. Alternatively, a sabbatical is typically for the purpose of personal or professional growth. 

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Dustin Moskovitz, Co-founder and CEO of Asana

How does a sabbatical work?

There are typically four elements of a sabbatical leave: requesting the leave, discussing the details, taking the leave, and returning to work. 

To kick off the sabbatical request process, you’ll usually start by communicating with your manager and human resources team that you’d like to take an extended leave. Your human resources team can also guide you on any specific company policies, legal documentation, or the applicable legal requirements you need to meet in order to qualify for a sabbatical leave. 

If and when you come to an agreement about the purpose of your leave, you’ll then work out a plan for how long your leave will be and the stipulations around it. Questions you may need to discuss include

  • The relevant laws and regulations surrounding extended leaves

  • The purpose of your sabbatical leave

  • The duration of your extended leave

  • What resources the team will use while you’re out

  • The insight you’ll gain during your leave 

While some companies have an established sabbatical policy in place, others may not. In those scenarios, it’s possible they could agree to a sabbatical on a case-by-case basis depending on the benefits it would have from both the team member and organization’s standpoint. 

There is often some paperwork that comes after the agreement. The stipulations you agree to will depend on your company’s policy and applicable laws and regulations, but will often require you to show proof of professional development in some way. For some this could be a tool or process you bring back to the company, for others it could be a simple write up explaining what you gained from your leave.

Post-sabbatical, your team, and manager will help get you up to speed on new projects in the pipeline. It’s important to utilize the skills you gained from your sabbatical by offering new solutions to current problems. 

Read: Employee handbook: How to inform and inspire your team (with examples)

Is sabbatical leave paid?

Similar to the length of your sabbatical leave, whether or not your time off is paid depends on your organization’s policy and the relevant laws and regulations. 

While some companies offer a 12-week paid sabbatical, that’s not always the case. Even if you do get paid, there’s a possibility that it’s a percentage of your usual wage as opposed to your full pay.

Though an unpaid sabbatical may sound less appealing, there are still benefits to taking an extended leave. Taking a sabbatical from work will still offer you the opportunity to expand your personal and professional growth.

Work with your human resources department to learn more about the laws, regulations, and company policies surrounding sabbatical leave in your situation. They can also help you understand if your leave will be paid and if your employee benefits will apply during your absence. 

Sabbatical leave eligibility

You might be wondering: is everyone eligible for sabbatical? Often, the factors that come into play are the employment laws and regulations in your area, how long you’ve been at the company, what position you’re in, whether or not you receive approval, and the length of your sabbatical.

In many cases, a sabbatical is only paid after a certain number of years of employment. For example, some companies allow a 12-week paid sabbatical after two years of being with the company. 

Another large component is the reason behind asking for a sabbatical. Most companies require you to provide more information than just general career interests. Eligibility may require you to explain in detail your plan for professional growth and how it will contribute to the organization’s growth plan. 

Once you’ve gotten eligibility consent, submit a formal request for approval. 

How to submit a sabbatical request

Submitting a formal sabbatical request will often involve a series of paperwork submitted to your human resources department. You may also need to submit your leave request to various team leads to ensure the entire organization is on board.

Check with your internal human resources department to see if they have a form or set of documentation required. Below, you can see an example of a sabbatical leave request form—but always defer to your internal company’s policies and documentation when submitting the request. 

How to submit a sabbatical request

Sabbatical leave of absence requests often require details around the purpose, length, and return-to-office plan. Your HR department may also require you to make a formal team plan for work coverage while you’re out. This could include specifics around which team members are able to pick up your duties or any external resources you’ll need to use. 

While each sabbatical request looks different, take a look at an example below. Before submitting your sabbatical leave request form, always check with your human resources department for proper documentation.

Sabbatical leave request form

Name: Kat Mooney

Department: Marketing

Years of employment: 5

Sabbatical dates: 1/10–4/4

Statement of purpose: 

I would like to take a 12-week sabbatical leave to attend a leadership fellowship. This fellowship will give me the opportunity to learn under some of the industry’s most prestigious leaders. I will learn how to enhance my leadership skills, how to empower my team to reach new milestones, as well as build lasting relationships with emerging leaders from all over the country. 

Not only will this enhance my own personal and professional skills, but it will allow me to bring what I learn back to the organization. I plan to implement the skills I learn with the team and lead workshops to enhance the skills of new and existing managers.

Team member signature: Kat Mooney

Approval signature: Daniela Vargas

Along with a request form, you may be required to submit a report post sabbatical explaining in thorough detail the activities you took part in and what you learned during your leave.

The benefits of sabbatical leave

There are many benefits of both taking a sabbatical as a team member and providing sabbatical leave as an organization. 

The benefits of sabbatical leave

While an extended leave may not sound like the best road to improved efficiency, encouraging sabbatical leaves and work-life balance in general can have amazing benefits on team productivity and overall morale. The key is to plan out resources ahead of time to ensure work is evenly distributed amongst team members.

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Anna Binder, Head of People Operations at Asana

There are three main benefits of taking sabbatical leave:

  1. Improves creativity: A sabbatical leave is a time to work with thought leaders and be inspired by new information and training. Whether your sabbatical requires travel or empowering lessons from a nearby expert, taking a leave for professional development inspires team members to be creative and bring innovative ideas back to the rest of the team. 

  2. Drives productivity: Productivity is driven by reduced distractions, organized work, and team collaboration. Taking a sabbatical leave can teach you how to be better in each of those areas, and give you a much needed break to recharge.

  3. Reduces burnout: With burnout on the rise, it’s crucial for leaders to listen to their team. Nearly half (46%) of knowledge workers cite being overworked as a key factor contributing to burnout, with one in three (29%) feeling overworked from a lack of clarity on tasks and roles. Empowering team members to take a sabbatical will improve mental health and reduce team burnout in the long run. 

Sabbatical leaves inspire your team to not only grow their skills but to always make mental health a priority. Not only do sabbaticals improve team morale, but they also encourage individuals to use their thought leadership to teach others.

Read: Out of office: 4 ways to prep for your vacation with Asana

Empower your team with sabbatical leave

A sabbatical leave doesn’t just benefit those that take it, but it always benefits your entire team. When each team member expands their knowledge, the whole team benefits. 

Reducing burnout and driving productivity are both essential when it comes to a thought provoking team. Encourage your team to have a flexible schedule with the help of remote work software. With increased visibility and clear priorities, your team will feel empowered to drive productivity and efficiency.

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