Structuring Your Company Sabbatical Program

Yesterday, we introduced the topic of sabbaticals for employees, which are no longer perks reserved for college professors in tweed jackets. Many companies are finding that a sabbatical is a great benefit for current workers and highly influential for employee recruitment. How do you put together a sabbatical program that’s fair and well-received? Here are a few tips.

  • First, brief the board. Your biggest naysayers may be traditionalists who see a sabbatical as a ticket for employees to goof off. Before presenting to the board, use examples of companies that have successful programs (e.g., McDonald’s and Morningstar, Inc.), and explain their use for retention, recruitment, and even external reputation building.
  • Consider the eligibility requirement. You want to ensure that your program is fairly administered. Therefore, make sure you are clear on how long employees are to work with the company before they are considered for a sabbatical. Also consider how employees apply, the length of the leave, who approves the sabbatical, and whether or not the leave is compensated. You may also want to build in certain provisions, such as the policy that employee must report back to the team on his or her sabbatical experience.
  • Get coverage. Make sure that when the employee is away, work still gets done, and make sure that the employee on sabbatical truly has the opportunity to unplug from the daily routine. Employees and managers should be able to provide a plan for coverage during the sabbatical.
  • Get legal advice. Develop clear policies that delineate what is vacation and sabbatical time. It’s an important distinction. Vacation leave that has been earned but not used must is paid when the employee leaves the organization.
  • Find partners. One good way to start a sabbatical program is to identify programs that may help employees manage their time off. For example, there are many opportunities for volunteering at home or abroad as well as immersion programs for learning new languages.
  • Leverage your program. Use the sabbatical as a recruitment tool as well as an opportunity to show customers how much your employees are valued. Invite those who have participated in the program to tell their stories to others. If the program is successful, past participants will be more than happy to spread the word about this highly sought-after benefit.