27 Nov 2023

What is sabbatical leave?

A decade ago the idea of flexible work was nothing more than a pipe dream for most UK employees, now things have changed – flexiwork is here to stay, and more and more employees have begun to explore taking a sabbatical leave. But what exactly is a sabbatical, and how does it apply within the context of the UK workforce? This blog post aims to explore the multifaceted nature of sabbatical leave, delving into its origins, implementation, and impact on both employees and employers.


What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a period away from work, traditionally taken to pursue personal projects, rest, or study. This concept has been embraced by various companies globally, reflecting a shift towards more flexible work practices. A striking example is seen in the United States, where, as of 2017, 17% of corporations offered some form of sabbatical leave. In the UK, while there are no specific sabbatical laws, employees can request this type of leave under the new flexible working act.

What is the origin of sabbatical leave?

The term ‘sabbatical’ has its roots in academia. University professors are often granted sabbatical leave to take a break from teaching and administrative duties. This time is typically used to focus on personal projects, research, or further study. The purpose is to return to their role reinvigorated, with fresh perspectives and new insights.

Is sabbatical leave paid?

The terms of a sabbatical can vary greatly between organisations. Some employers, such as Deloitte, offer paid, short term (in the case of Deloitte, two month long) sabbatical leave, while others may provide it on an unpaid basis, upon request. Monzo, in light of the changing sands of UK working culture, have begun to offer three month paid sabbaticals, every four years an employee works at the organisation. The intention behind the new sabbatical leave policy is to reward employee loyalty and prevent burnout from spreading amongst staff. Smaller organisations may not offer paid sabbatical – specific policy on payment often hinges on the company’s policies and the purpose of the sabbatical.

What are the benefits of sabbatical leave?

Taking a sabbatical comes with a plethora of benefits. For the employee, it’s an opportunity to rest, rejuvenate, and pursue personal interests or development, leading to enhanced job satisfaction and productivity upon return. For the employer, it presents a chance for succession planning and talent development. Sabbaticals can act as a trial period for interim leaders, allowing companies to assess potential candidates for future leadership roles in a controlled environment. Additionally, offering sabbaticals can enhance an organisation’s image, portraying it as a caring and progressive employer.

What is the duration of a sabbatical?

The length of a sabbatical can vary significantly. Some organisations offer short-term sabbaticals ranging from a few weeks to a couple of months, while others may provide longer periods, extending up to a year or more. The duration typically depends on the employer’s policies and the objectives of the sabbatical.

What do you do on sabbatical?

The activities undertaken during a sabbatical are as diverse as the individuals who take them. For instance, Patagonia, an outdoor clothing company, offers sabbaticals specifically for environmental volunteering. Employees use this time to contribute to grassroots environmental causes, aligning personal passions with corporate social responsibility initiatives. Other common activities include traveling, studying, engaging in research, or simply taking time to rest and rejuvenate.

How do you request a sabbatical?

Requesting a sabbatical requires a well-thought-out plan and clear communication with your employer. It’s advisable to prepare a detailed proposal outlining the reasons for your sabbatical, how it aligns with your personal and professional growth, and how your absence will be managed. Understanding your company’s policy on sabbaticals and presenting a compelling case can significantly increase the chances of approval.

Sabbatical leave represents a progressive approach to work-life balance, offering profound benefits to both employees and employers. While the concept is more established in some countries than others, the trend towards embracing more flexible work arrangements is gaining momentum globally. In the UK, where specific sabbatical legislation is absent, the right to request flexible working acts as a gateway for employees seeking this valuable experience. As workplaces continue to evolve, sabbaticals may become an increasingly integral part of the professional landscape, fostering a more dynamic, satisfied, and productive workforce.