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What Is Sabbatical Leave? Everything You Need To Know

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What Is Sabbatical Leave? Everything You Need To Know


Sabbatical leave is an employee's break from work to recharge and rejuvenate, typically occurring after a set of years. It is one of the most fantastic perks for long-term workers. Sabbatical leave is an excellent allowance for valued employees, bringing many benefits to employees and the company. A sabbatical helps employees refresh their mental, physical, and emotional health, leaving them ready to return to the workplace with new insights and ideas. Sabbaticals also help employees pursue personal interests, such as travel or education, and feel overall appreciated by their employers.

So, what exactly is sabbatical leave, and why should employers offer it? Let’s go over these questions and more below.

What is sabbatical leave?

The meaning of sabbatical leave is a period employees can take to pursue personal or professional development opportunities. Employees who take a sabbatical leave often use the time to travel, learn new skills, or take on other challenging experiences that will help them grow both personally and professionally. Sabbatical leave may also be granted for a well-deserved vacation from work after years of dutiful service, allowing workers to recharge and feel valued.

Within companies that offer sabbatical leave, full-time employees are typically eligible for leave after every five to ten years. Additionally, the length of sabbatical leave varies from business to business, typically lasting anywhere from four weeks to one year. The longer, set length of sabbatical leave gives employees time to truly focus on their personal lives without feeling pressured to return to work too soon, as they might with annual leave vacations.

Due to the long length of sabbaticals, this perk is typically granted to long-term or tenured employees. While sabbaticals are traditionally seen as a perk for older, more experienced workers, more and more companies are offering them to younger employees as well.

Sabbatical leave may be paid or unpaid depending on the individual company policy. While some employers offer sabbatical leave in addition to annual leave, others require employees to use accumulated vacation time or other paid leave for part of the sabbatical period. Some companies may also offer shorter, unpaid sabbatical leaves in addition to long, paid sabbatical leave.

Additionally, offering a more extended break may help prevent burnout and cultivate a more robust company culture. Sabbatical leave is also an excellent way to show appreciation for long-term employees and draw in and retain long-term talent. Overall, this benefits employees by strengthening work-life balance while reducing expensive employment-turnover costs for employers.

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What are the different types of sabbatical leave?

The original purpose of sabbatical leave was for academics to pursue personal or career-growth pursuits. Thus, the main types of sabbaticals derived from this were travel, research, volunteer, and study sabbaticals. Today, these sabbaticals are also common amongst other private sector professions.

Research sabbaticals involve pursuing independent research projects, while study sabbaticals typically involve taking courses or participating in formal programs of study at another institution. Additionally, organizations may provide travel sabbaticals to allow employees to pursue personally-enriching travel, while volunteer sabbaticals are for involvement in local or foreign community-building efforts.

While some only provide these breaks for personal pursuits, others provide sabbaticals for much-needed recharge. Thus, sabbaticals can be endless. Some companies encourage employees to use their sabbaticals to consider career changes.

There are also full-time and part-time sabbaticals. Full-time sabbaticals are available for full-time employees, typically occurring every five years. Part-time sabbaticals are available for part-time employees, typically available every ten years. Nike offers full-time sabbaticals for workers with ten years of service, available every five years. Companies with more part-time workers, like McDonald’s, may also provide sabbaticals, with McDonald’s now offering an eight-week paid sabbatical for ten years of service.

A sabbatical can be a great way to recharge and refresh oneself personally and professionally. After sabbaticals — no matter the type — employees may come back with new life or professional experience, renewed energy, and increased motivation and confidence in their careers.

What are the rules for sabbatical leave?

There are no universal rules for taking or providing sabbatical leave, but employers may implement policies regarding eligibility, length of leave, compensation, and required notice. Employers are responsible for crafting and implementing their policies; however, they should be clear and include terms and conditions. Sabbatical leave policies should be consistent with any agreed upon employment contracts and any outlined employer-provided benefits.

In order to have a successful sabbatical, it is important to plan by researching your company’s policy on leave, creating a timeline/schedule of activities that need to be completed while on leave (including communication plans), preparing financial estimates based on expected earnings during the time away from work, and discussing the leave plan with your boss or HR representative.

Is sabbatical leave required by law?

Sabbatical leave is not required by law, but many employers offer it as a benefit to employees. Sabbatical leave is common in the United States and the United Kingdom, particularly for mid to large companies. In these nations, sabbatical leave is typically four weeks to one year. However, annual sick and maternity leave are the only legally required leave benefits.

Employers should consider offering employees sabbatical leave despite not being required by law. Amid the "great resignation," more employers offer this generous allowance to employees. The "great resignation" is a term to describe the record number of people quitting their jobs due to dissatisfaction, burnout, and more. According to Forbes, a recent multi-national survey found that 39% of European workers need a serious break from work. Sabbaticals allow employees to do just that. While it may seem like a costly benefit to provide, the gains of increased productivity and employee retention balance it out in the end.

Thus, employers should — and may need to — implement sabbatical leave policies to attract and retain the best workers. Regarding legal requirements, employers must adhere to the terms listed in the agreed-upon employment contract, including employer-provided benefits like sabbatical leave. They are also legally obligated to be fair and unbiased when reviewing and approving leave requests and benefits distribution. Additionally, employees are to remain employed for the duration of their leave and be able to resume their positions once the leave period is complete.

Creating a sabbatical leave policy

There are no legally-mandated guidelines for sabbatical leave in most countries, so companies must create sabbatical leave policies themselves. This allows companies to decide what is best for their employees, business goals, and company culture. Here are some factors employers should consider when crafting a sabbatical leave policy:

  • Eligibility: The qualifications that make employees eligible for sabbatical leave are essential to include in the policy. Many companies require employees to be employed for ten years to qualify for leave, while others may require shorter periods. Additionally, being in good standing, meeting goals, and more may be required to be eligible.
  • Length and frequency: Include the permitted length of sabbatical leave in your written policy, typically at least four weeks. Additionally, the frequency your employees may take leave, such as every five years, should be included.
  • Notice: Include the required notice for taking a sabbatical leave in your policy. For example, perhaps your employees should provide a minimum of one month’s notice before taking this extended leave so all team members have enough time to prepare.
  • Purpose: Some employers may only allow sabbatical leave for specific purposes, such as developing professionally. However, other companies allow sabbatical leave for any purpose so long as the employee is eligible. Consider what purpose your sabbatical leave allowance is for if any.
  • Compensation: Another essential point of one’s policy should be pay. Make sure to detail whether your sabbatical leave is paid, unpaid, or partially paid.
  • Terms and conditions: Your policy may contain additional terms such as approval procedures, remaining available for contact while on leave, or agreements to guarantee one's return to work following the leave. Whatever conditions you decide on, ensure they are thoroughly detailed in your policy.
  • Make it competitive: Making your sabbatical leave policy competitive in your industry can help you attract and retain top talent. This might look like offering fully paid leave, greater frequency, and more extended leave allowances.


Sabbatical leave can be incredibly beneficial for employees to refresh and recharge themselves, personally and professionally. Employers must consider offering sabbatical leave to attract and retain top, long-term talent. Partnering with an employment partner like Skuad can help you offer comprehensive benefits, including sabbatical leave, to your employees. Request a demo with Skuad today to learn how we can help your teams and business thrive.

About the author

Catalina Wang is a Human Resource Consultant. She manages recruitment, onboarding, and contract administration staffing for many organizations and remote teams. She’s passionate about efficient HR management and the impact of tech on hiring practices.

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