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Sabbaticals are growing in popularity – is your employer in the loop?

Posted: Dec 2023
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Does your company offer you benefits that make you feel appreciated? While dental cover and life insurance have utilitarian value, there’s a lot to be said for the power of more creative benefits – ones that show a deeper, meaningful understanding of the needs and desires of employees.

Benefits speak volumes about the value that a company places on an employee’s experience and wellbeing at work. We see a lot of commonalities in the benefits offered by our clients, but recently we’re hearing a desire for what we view as a real standout – sabbaticals. From what we have seen and heard; they are highly desired among comms professionals. When we ran a snapshot poll to gauge the level of interest, we were pleasantly surprised to find that a whopping 44% of respondents from across the comms industry are being offered this amazing perk as a benefit.

Should more companies be adopting the practice of offering a sabbatical to loyal members of their team? And could this be the new deal-breaker when it comes to deciding on a role?

The word ‘sabbatical’ has its origins in the word ‘sabbath’, meaning a day of rest. The word ‘sabbath’ is also used to refer to a sabbath year. This is the seventh year of the agricultural cycle when the land is left to fallow, so it has a chance to rest, and the nutrients go back into the soil. The concept of sabbath year was adopted by academia, and became known as a ‘sabbatical year’, a period of paid leave given once every seven years to a university teacher so that they could grow their knowledge through travel, study or undertaking a ‘passion project’ of their own choosing, such as helping out at an archaeological dig.

Over recent years, a growing number of corporate workplaces have started to offer sabbatical leave as a kind of wellness benefit. These companies understand that encouraging their employees to explore the world and pursue their passions outside of work can have numerous benefits.

While sabbaticals are gaining recognition and appreciation in certain companies, it is still a relatively uncommon practice in the corporate comms world. However, it has started to pop up in more and more conversations that we have had with senior corporate comms professionals who believe that sabbaticals could be a valuable perk to help bolster employee retention and wellbeing.

We hear of all manner of non-financial benefits on offer to keep employees happy – massage, yoga classes, private healthcare, unlimited holidays, in-office gyms, as well as the all-important flexible working options. While these company perks can help make the working week less stressful, they don’t truly acknowledge the need for employees to escape from the office and their work life. In the fast-paced world of corporate comms, it can be hard to find the ‘off’ switch and the risk of burnout cannot be ignored.

We ran a poll on LinkedIn to see how sabbaticals stacked up against other benefits that focus on giving time off, and the preferences of just under 200 corporate comms respondents came out as follows:

Which non-financial benefit excites you the most?

  • Paid sabbatical – 47%
  • Unlimited holiday – 25%
  • August working from anywhere – 21%
  • Other – 7% other (included answers such as employers paying for coaching to aid with the transition to leadership; learning and development opportunities to manage boundaries with work better; learning new skills and qualifications outside of the normal career pathway)

    When we saw just how much interest there is in sabbaticals among comms professionals, we drilled down further to establish how many companies include sabbaticals among their benefits.

    Does your employer offer a sabbatical?

    • No sabbatical option – 56%
    • Unpaid sabbatical option – 28%
    • Paid sabbatical option – 16%

    Are comms leaders missing a trick?

    Let’s unpack the potential value of including a sabbatical offering as a benefit. A work hiatus of this kind can be beneficial for both employees and companies – employees have an extended amount of time to relax and rejuvenate, so when they return to work, they are ready to dive in with new ideas.

    In a world that glorifies constant productivity, sabbaticals offer a counter-narrative – an acknowledgment that true growth often emerges from intentional pauses. Whether driven by a desire for adventure, personal development, or a need for professional reorientation, taking a sabbatical can be a transformative experience.

    What makes sabbaticals a win-win

    A sabbatical can kickstart succession planning and provide the business with trial periods to succeed without its usual leadership team. In these situations, those who fill in can take on leadership responsibilities, and sabbatical-takers can craft their leadership roles to fit their new sense of authenticity when they return.

    Giving employees the chance for a break can greatly reduce the risk of things like high turnover and sickness absences, so employers are more likely to keep hold of their people.

    Sabbaticals beget sabbaticals. Participants are often inspired by, and then push friends and colleagues to take their own sabbatical. But it is important to acknowledge that sabbatical-takers can form a privileged circle – a great career and financial success often making their sabbatical possible (particularly if it’s unpaid). This life-changing opportunity is often unavailable to most of their subordinates. Companies must therefore be aware that sabbaticals can further inequality. To harness their full potential, companies should consider the most equitable ways to allocate sabbaticals and provide resources to enable a diverse range of employees to take advantage.

    Do sabbatical-takers actually come back?

    Let’s not mince words – there is a risk that a great employee who takes a sabbatical will not return. But employers have a surprising amount of influence on that decision. Sabbatical-takers are less likely to return if the sabbatical is a last resort. When there is a sabbatical policy in place, your team members have the option to take a break and venture into an exciting, temporary adventure, and not feel as though they are escaping unsustainable work. With burnout rates on the rise and companies struggling to find effective interventions, consider sabbaticals as relatively easy-to-implement, preventative investments.

    If you facilitate sabbaticals before employees are pushed to the brink, most will return with renewed energy and greater clarity about how they want to contribute.

    How to request a sabbatical

    In the UK, the legal framework for sabbaticals is primarily governed by employment contracts and company policies. If you want to bring yourself fully up to speed on official stuff, you will find plenty of information on what the law says, the differences between unpaid leave and career breaks and advice on policies in this guide on sabbaticals from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).

    If you’re lucky, your place of work may already have a scheme in place for sabbaticals. However, do check the small print! Although returning to the same job and salary level may be guaranteed, some companies will reserve the right to switch the team you work in or the specifics of your job.

    Having done this small bit of research into sabbaticals, we are keen to follow it up with a wider look at the non-financial company benefits communications professionals really want from their employers. We will be asking these questions in our next salary survey, so please do take part.

    For a free download of our full Annual Salary Guide 2023, click here.

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    The Works Search: a search consultancy specialising in PR and corporate communications. We have unrivalled matching abilities and are known for finding the top 5% performers in the industry - the ones who deliver and make your reputation great. For more advice or market insights, do get in touch with us on 0207 903 9291 or email:

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