Sabbatical leave: What it is and how it works

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7 januari 2024
7 min. läsning
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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, such as traveling for career growth. A sabbatical benefits the team members as well as the company because it reduces turnover and creates a more well-rounded team.

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. 

In this article, we’ve put together the most frequently asked questions around sabbatical leave and included some of the key benefits you can exprience by taking a leave of absence.

What is sabbatical leave?

Sabbatical leave is a period of time in which a team member takes an extended break from work. While the reasons to 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, 71% of knowledge workers experienced burnout at least once in the past year. 

[inline illustration] What is sabbatical leave (infographic)

Whether you’re looking to travel abroad to enrich your perspective or 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 does a sabbatical 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. 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 

Your human resources team can also guide you on any specific company policies, legal documentation, or applicable legal requirements you need to meet in order to qualify for a sabbatical leave. 

While some companies have an established sabbatical leave 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 for both the team member and the organization. 

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 new skills you gained from your sabbatical by offering fresh solutions to current problems. 

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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 one 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

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 type of leave. Alternatively, a sabbatical is typically for the purpose of personal or professional growth.

quotation mark
Dustin Moskovitz, Co-founder and CEO of Asana

Is sabbatical leave paid?

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

While some companies offer a paid sabbatical, that’s not always the case. Even if you do get a paid leave, 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, 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 rules and eligibility

At this point, you may be wondering if there are rules of a sabbatical leave and whether or not you could be eligible for one. 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 full-time.

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

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

How to submit a sabbatical request

Once you’ve gotten eligibility consent, you’ll likely need to submit a formal request for approval. In general, you’ll take the following steps to submit a sabbatical request to your company. However, every company’s request process will differ, so make sure you check with your legal and HR teams to confirm your sabbatical request process. 

Step 1: Connect with your team leads and HR department

Submitting a formal sabbatical request will often involve a series of paperwork from 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. 

Step 2: Submit a request form

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 own company’s policies when submitting the request.

[inline illustration] Sabbatical leave request form (example)

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, and 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 also 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

Step 3: Make a formal team 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 they’ll need to use. 

Step 4: Prepare a post-sabbatical report

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.

6 Benefits of sabbatical leave

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

[inline illustration] Benefits of sabbatical leave (infographic)

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 among team members.

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Anna Binder, Head of People Operations at Asana

Benefits of sabbatical leave for team members

1. 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 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. 

2. Encourages skill development

Team members might look for new opportunities to broaden their skill set by using a sabbatical leave for professional development. A team member can broaden their knowledge and skill base in ways that are applicable to their job within the organization. 

They might also pick up new perspectives and insights that enhance their readiness for either a promotion within the company or for their existing role, which is a great perk..

3. Offers freedom to pursue other interests

Giving your staff members the opportunity to explore other interests is a terrific approach to boost their mental well-being and make them feel appreciated at work. Traveling, writing, or giving their time to support a cause that is dear to them are just a few examples.

Benefits of sabbatical leave for organizations

4. Drives productivity

Sabbatical leave fosters wellbeing and lowers stress, which are essential for better productivity over the long term. With 41% of workers saying that stress leads them to be less productive, it’s important for employers to prioritize the mental health and wellness of their team. 

A sabbatical leave could be a great opportunity to give team members a much needed break to recharge and pursue other passions that are fulfilling.

5. Increases creativity and innovation

The most significant leadership attribute, according to over 60% of CEOs, is creativity. Working with thought leaders during a sabbatical leave allows team members to be motivated by fresh knowledge and training, which increases their creativity. 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. 

6. Reduces turnover

By allowing sabbaticals, employee turnover can be reduced. If team members have the option of taking a lengthy leave of absence, they could be less likely to hunt for employment elsewhere. This promotes employee retention and can be very cost-effective for the company since less money is required to train new team members.

Sabbatical leaves inspire your team to grow their skills and 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 grows.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between impostor syndrome and burnout

Burnout and impostor syndrome have historically been studied as two separate phenomena. In this report, we connect the dots to help leaders slow burnout and increase employee retention.

Anatomy of Work Special Report: The unexplored link between imposter syndrome and burnout page banner image

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