What is a sabbatical? How is it different than a career break?
Sabbaticals used to be something that mainly happened in the academic world.
Professors or researchers who had been heavily focused on one area of study would customarily take a sabbatical, which would involve paid time off (PTO), for a period of about six months. They would use this time to recharge and refocus on a different set of issues or area of study.
Today, however, sabbaticals are pauses in regular employment that are sponsored by an employer but do not necessarily have any single motivation. They also are generally unpaid breaks in employment, though employees typically understand that their position will be held for them until they return to work.
A career break is typically defined as something where an employee takes time off, but without the official sanction of an employer, nor the right to return to work. A career break usually implies someone has quit or been fired, and simply has no plans to return to work in the near future. Sabbaticals are generally far less risky in the sense that both the employee and employer intend to return back to an employment relationship.
How long is a sabbatical?
This depends on the company's policy. Anecdotally, one New York internet startup offered employees who worked for five years a one month sabbatical. Academic institutions often offer up to six months, but that benefit is generally for tenured professors.
Why do employers offer sabbaticals?
Sabbaticals are one interesting way employers can address employee burnout and reduce high-stress levels and staff turnover. The average American worker will work over 40 years in her career. That’s a lot of time for any one person to put into work, so it’s no wonder that some feel burned out during some parts of those years.
Taking a career break is another obvious alternative, but many people understandably worry about leaving the security of a job and paycheck and so do not end up quitting. That’s why sabbaticals are such an interesting benefit and seemingly so beloved by the employees who take them.
Sabbaticals can be used as a retention tool, and are typically associated with older employees who may use the paid or unpaid time off to travel, rest, or spend quality time with family and friends. Some even use their sabbatical time to explore other hobbies or interests. Unlike generic banks of paid time off benefits, sabbaticals often involve a prolonged period of time away where there is no pressure or expectation to stay involved with their jobs on a day-to-day basis.
From an employer’s perspective, while it may be scary to let a tenured employee go for an extended period of time, it’s also an opportunity to let some junior employees step up their game by temporarily taking on additional responsibilities.
How common are sabbaticals?
All in all, sabbaticals are still a relatively unusual benefit in America. Estimates of the percentage of companies that offer sabbaticals range from 19-23%, according to Fast Company, and typically larger employers are more easily able to offer (and afford) these benefits. Those companies that do offer sabbaticals typically do so in order to reward employee loyalty and/or to reduce burn-out. This typically means that only those employees who have been with the company for several years are eligible take advantage of the perk.
Sabbaticals can be paid or unpaid, though some research, such as the 2010 study by not-for-profit WorldatWork, suggest that 2/3 of the companies that offer sabbaticals offer it as unpaid time off, rather than paid.
While it’s hard to uncover a truly comprehensive list of employers that offer sabbatical leave, or the exact details regarding any particular company’s sabbatical policy, we did find that the following 77 companies offered some sort of sabbatical policy, according to publicly available sources:
American Century Investments
Alston & Bird
Blue Cross Blue Shield
David Weekley Homes
Edelman Financial Services
Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants
Plante & Moran
Recreational Equipment, Inc. (REI)
Renewable NRG Systems
Jude Children’s Research Hospital
The Cheesecake Factory
The Container Store
The Motley Fool
If we’ve missed a company, or you find an error in our data (e.g. because a historical sabbatical program has been phased out), or your employer has recently decided to offer sabbatical leave, please drop us a line at [email protected] and we will add the correct information to this list!