In the academic world, it's not uncommon for professors to leave their facilities for a while. They take a sabbatical, supposedly based on the Jewish tradition of taking a break from working the land, every seven years. The time usually goes toward research or other learning, but people pursue goals like writing books, too.

In the business world, workers--usually those in more senior positions--take sabbaticals, too. Unfortunately, while some small companies are on board, it's usually a perk found in big corporations, rather than smaller or mid-size businesses. That's because larger companies have more resources to handle an absence or to find workers who can fill in. And workers in new companies might not have been able to work for the company long enough to earn the break.

But if you look at the real purpose behind the sabbatical, the benefits of making it the norm for companies of all sizes smack you in the face.

Even though work is expected on a sabbatical, it's meant to be a time for mental and physical rest, too. People can work more reasonable hours, and they get a chance to recover from sleep deprivation and pay attention to their health more closely. They subsequently can come back to their regular work with sharper attention and focus, and they're able to make better decisions. This isn't an insignificant benefit given that at least 20 percent of workers are engaged but at risk of burnout, and that a whopping 95 percent of U.S. human resource professionals say burnout is sabotaging workforce retention.

If a sabbatical is long enough (at least one to three months), it provides time for workers to think hard about the way they're living and what they want. They can examine whether they think they're approaching specific problems or projects--or their entire life--the right way. At the end, workers have a better sense of what has purpose and meaning for them, and they're willing to work harder for those things. As evidence of the value contemporary workers place on that sense of purpose, roughly 75 percent of Millennials say they'd take a pay cut to work for a company that's socially responsible. And 88 percent say they want to work for a company whose values reflect their own, while 94 percent like using their skills to benefit a cause.

And lastly, the sabbatical allows people to have extraordinary experiences. They can learn about new techniques or cultures, take classes, reconnect with mentors or other people they value and explore new hobbies. That often means that workers change their entire perspective or come to be more open-minded than they were in the past. That can mean bringing more "wild" ideas to the table. But it also can translate to being more willing to hear team members out--over a third of employees worldwide (34 percent) think their companies don't listen to their concepts for improving the businesses.

In short, sabbaticals can address some of the most pressing problems companies deal with, including engagement, hierarchy/bias and retention. You might do well to invest in your team with paid breaks, particularly given that many workers simply are not in a financial position to take the standard unpaid option. Seventy-eight percent of workers live paycheck to paycheck, with more than a quarter not setting aside any savings per month. This includes nearly 1 out of 10 workers making more than $100,000 per year and 28 percent making $50,000-$99,999. Shorter sabbaticals likely are the most financially feasible for most businesses to handle, but because the most life-changing breaks are longer (up to a year), don't underestimate the value of funding more time if it's in your budget. Regardless of the length you choose, make sure the stipulations around the sabbatical (e.g., paid-unpaid, no other paid work, able to come back early, etc.) are clear and in writing.

Published on: Mar 15, 2019
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