Frequently Asked Questions
- My employees are overachievers. What if they don't want to take a sabbatical?
- How do I decide who gets to go on a sabbatical?
- Aren't sabbatical programs only for large corporations?
- Isn't there a risk that our employees will decide not to come back?
- How can we provide work coverage for employees while they're away?
- How much will a sabbatical program cost us?
- My employees are overachievers. What if they don't want to take a sabbatical? (↑ up)
Some overachievers might be hesitant to leave, believing their work is so important they can’t afford to be away for a while. This is an ego and fear issue the sabbatical-goer can overcome with assistance from leadership. To address the “ego problem,” some sabbatical providers make participation mandatory. One accounting firm even penalizes those who are unwilling to participate by reducing their salary in one year by 5%. If, on the other hand, they do step out on sabbatical, they get a bonus of 5% of their previous year’s total compensation. Companies can also combat the fear issue with strong management buy-in. I.e., managers modeling the way by taking sabbatical breaks themselves.
- How do I decide who gets to go on a sabbatical? (↑ up)
Sabbaticals are best allocated based on objective, measurable factors such as tenure and, less commonly, performance. Setting time criteria is standard in just about every sabbatical plan. Employees are eligible after four years (or more) with the company, and then again every X number of years after that. Few companies add requirements beyond tenure, making the option available to anyone. The logic here is that you wouldn’t keep an unsatisfactory, low performer on your team long enough to become eligible for the benefit anyway.
- Aren't sabbatical programs only for large corporations? (↑ up)
Sabbaticals are appropriate—and possible—at any size company. There are companies on our Workplaces for Sabbaticals list with as few as 14 employees. Key to any successful sabbatical is planning work coverage. Companies can prepare themselves with team-based services models. Team coverage has an added benefit as it establishes that clients belong to the organization, not the employee. Team coverage also helps a company be more flexible when faced with unexpected turnover or emergency leaves.
- Isn't there a risk that our employees will decide not to come back? (↑ up)
Although it rarely happens, it is possible that a person on sabbatical may discover that he or she wants to leave the company. To reduce this risk, sabbatical policies sometimes include a clause that requires a sabbatical taker to reimburse salary paid while on leave, should he or she leave the company within a year.
- How can we provide work coverage for employees while they're away? (↑ up)
Sabbatical work coverage is a challenge in any organization, but addressing this obstacle is a tool toward greater effectiveness and agility.
Well Designed. A well-designed sabbatical program will provide leaders with the tools to manage the impact. Most firms don’t allow sabbaticals during busy season, and many require participants to submit their departure intentions well in advance (a year, for example). Doing so allows adequate work-coverage planning.
Waste Free. When an employee quits without a replacement on board, the organization is forced to adjust and often finds that certain tasks or meetings weren’t critical to operations. Sabbaticals provide similar benefit, highlighting task waste and delegation opportunities—freeing the returning employee to focus more time on growth and innovation.
Agile. Work coverage is a particular challenge in small, one-person, department-type organizations. The technical nature of some jobs makes it nearly impossible to transition work to other staffers. In this case, contract workers may be hired on a part-time or on-call basis, thereby strengthening the organization and building in some protection against turnover or unexpected emergency leaves.
- How much will a sabbatical program cost us? (↑ up)
Sabbaticals don’t have to cost anything, and most companies claim they save money in turnover and recruitment. Depending on program design, costs can include salary paid during the sabbatical, lost revenues, temporary staff, and/or educational fees. Because salary costs are anticipated, you may not consider this a program expense. In fact, during the recent economic downturn, several employers turned to sabbaticals as a way to shave costs—sending employees on sabbatical at reduced compensation.
Program funding options are endless. Under one model, the employee receives a paid sabbatical while team members pitch in to cover the workload. Another option is to offer an unpaid sabbatical and use the salary savings to hire a temp or part-time contract worker. Still other companies use self-funded models whereby employees have a portion of their income withheld over several years to fund a future break.