Sabbaticals: considerations for employers and employees

Among the benefits desired by professionals, sabbaticals are often seen as nice-to-have but not a dealbreaker. This is because few jobseekers envisage themselves serving a business long enough to be able to claim this loyalty benefit – but here’s why it might just be the best benefit of all.

6 mins read
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11 Apr, 2024

The early years in a job are filled with learning: new skills, continued development and greater challenges along the way. For those lucky enough to love what they do in a workplace that meets their needs, years fly by – with some companies rewarding continuous long service or achievement with several weeks or months of paid sabbatical leave.

What is sabbatical leave?

Sabbatical leave used to be more commonly associated with academic professions, with educators traditionally granted a period of paid time off – usually one year – for further study or research. Similar opportunities have since filtered into other lines of work, with paid, part-paid and unpaid options, but are offered by relatively few employers across the world.

Unlike career breaks, sabbaticals mean the work contract continues, giving employees freedom to explore without penalty. There’s no set format but it is recommended employers offer the leave on equal terms for everyone in the business rather than using an ad hoc system. A dedicated sabbatical policy can outline terms for both full-time and part-time employees to prevent misunderstandings and protect against discrimination and other claims – fairness and transparency are key.

According to The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD): “Historically sabbaticals have been a benefit for employees. They are agreed for a variety of reasons including rewarding long service, travel, research or acquiring new skills, voluntary work, alleviating stress and burn out or to take care of health. In current times the motivation behind sabbaticals may be more for the employer’s benefit to provide alternatives to redundancy.”

With greater focus on employee mental health and wellbeing, meaningful benefits such as sabbaticals can also encourage a member of staff to spend longer with the business.

Having found their niche in a team and given the opportunity and resources to achieve and excel, many employees feel valued by the prospect of a morale-boosting sabbatical. What better than a reminder of approaching eligibility for a well-deserved break – usually starting after five years’ service.

How much sabbatical leave should be offered?

There is no law that says a business must offer sabbatical leave, paid or unpaid, but it is increasingly being introduced to attract jobseekers in competitive industries.

Although the traditional year out enjoyed by academics is unheard of for most private companies, a more affordable period of four weeks’ paid sabbatical leave is considered fair, rising to six weeks or more after 10 years’ continuous service.

Forward planning is essential to allow managers to reassign the leaver’s workload across the team or advertise for temporary help. This may require the employee to give at least six months’ notice but could well be longer depending on the seniority of the role.

During the leave, the employee may receive full or partial pay, or no pay at all, depending on the company’s sabbatical policy. Some employers may formally request that no other paid work is undertaken during the absence.

As an alternative or an addition to sabbatical leave, companies might choose to grant additional paid annual leave for loyal staff – perhaps five extra days after five years.

What are the benefits of sabbatical leave?

Time out can be an incredibly rewarding experience, and one with lasting benefits for both employer and employee. With the freedom that comes with the extra time off, sabbaticals are ideal for personal development, whether it’s a self-care plan, a period of study, travel or volunteering – the freedom from the 9-5 is ideally meant for discovery as well as relaxation.

Employee benefits

By using the time productively, employees could end up adding value to their role. Here’s a few ideas for how to spend the time:

  • Rest and recharge: A break from the daily grind gives an opportunity to step away from your work-life responsibilities and find out what inspires you.

  • Learning new skills: A sabbatical allows for plenty of free time that can be devoted towards learning new skills or honing existing ones. Whether it’s mastering a language or developing coding know-how, these experiences will enhance your career prospects and help you stand out from the crowd.

  • Greater appreciation: Time out provides an opportunity to reflect on things taken for granted over time, such as our job, relationships, or health.

  • Improved health: A sabbatical gives us the chance to focus on our physical and mental wellbeing by engaging in activities like yoga or meditation. This helps boost productivity levels upon returning to work along with improving overall quality of life.

  • Explore new interests: During a sabbatical, you could take up a hobby you may not have had time for while working. This can be a great way to develop new skills and can even lead to a new career path.

  • Personal development: Focusing on growth through travel, education, or other goals can bring new perspectives to your work when you return.

  • Enhanced creativity and productivity: Stepping away from work can provide a new perspective and channel your interests into projects that could be useful back in the workplace.

  • Eliminate burnout: Many people quit their jobs when they feel exhausted and demotivated through overwork and stress. Time away is a wellbeing solution that means you can retain your job while regaining your mojo.

Employer benefits

Sabbaticals can also provide significant benefits for employers in terms of employee retention and attraction:

  • Retain top talent: Offering sabbaticals can be a powerful tool for retaining workers. Employees who feel valued and supported by their employer are more likely to stay with the company long-term.

  • Improved productivity: Sabbaticals can lead to improved productivity in the long run, with employees returning to work with renewed energy and focus,

  • Cost savings: If an employee takes a sabbatical instead of leaving the company altogether, it can save the employer money in the long run through recruitment and training costs.

  • Enhanced creativity: Employees can explore new interests and ideas, introducing them in their work.

  • Improved employer branding: Companies that prioritise work-life balance and employee wellbeing are more likely to be viewed as desirable places to work.

Returning to work

The hope is that employees return to the workplace refreshed. The break may have brought clarity to their working routine, new skills that could benefit their role, and fresh ideas. The early weeks settling back in are a great time for sharing these ideas and considering how the job may be shaped by the sabbatical experience.

For the employee, a little preparation before the end of their leave can ease any anxiety about the return: catch up on company and industry news, check-in with colleagues, and ask for team updates so it’s not a complete surprise on the first day back.

Work may also seem a little overwhelming at first, with things unlikely to be the same as when the returner left. There might be different tech to get to grips with, new team members and schedules in place. Managers should keep checking in to ensure the returner is coping and not overloaded through this transitional period. Some workplaces provide a structured ‘return to work’ plan to help employees and managers meet their goals.

To encourage and inspire new and existing staff, sabbaticals should be shouted about in job adverts, social media and company websites. The prospect of a break or memory of one may lead to workplace happiness and contentment.

Looking for talented professionals to join your team or seeking a new opportunity? Contact one of our specialist recruitment consultants today.

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Inspiring the next generation: the benefits of offering internships
4 mins read

Inspiring the next generation: the benefits of offering internships

The decision to hire interns is not merely a trend, but a strategic must. The opportunities associated with internships can be used to bridge the gap between academic learning and practical application, while also playing a pivotal role in shaping the careers of aspiring professionals.

Towards the end of 2023, Google searches for ‘internships’ increased by 22% to 6,000 searches per month, while the social media platform, TikTok, saw four million views for the hashtag #internships, as more and more students look for opportunities to increase their work experience.

For businesses, investing in paid internships is a strategic move that goes beyond fulfilling corporate social responsibility. It's an investment in the future workforce, creating a talent pool that may later become full-time employees. According to the 2022 Student Recruitment Survey by the Institute of Student Employers, 82% of respondents reported that they recruit interns – showing that internships shouldn’t just be viewed as a gesture of goodwill, but play a pivotal role in recognizing talent, promoting diversity, and contributing to overall business success.

Managed well, an internship can be a viable recruitment option for an organization. But what are the main reasons why businesses should consider running an internship program?

Talent development

Businesses can use internship programs as a proactive approach to identifying and nurturing professionals for their talent pool. They can create direct connections with emerging talent, providing them with first-hand experience in their respective industries – from engineering and technology to sales and procurement.

With skills shortages affecting a large number of sectors, employers that provide a platform for eager individuals to gain paid experience, help ease the pressures many businesses – and professionals – are facing.

Innovation and fresh perspectives

Interns can inject new and exciting perspectives and ideas into the workplace, which can see campaigns thrive and strategies become more impactful. By recognizing that diversity fuels creativity, seeking interns who bring unique insights and approaches to problem-solving will help to enhance the overall creativity and adaptability of the organization.

Introducing different perspectives into your workplace provides a fresh take on the business as a whole. Even though interns won't be responsible for creating new policies or planning a strategy, their outside opinion may improve existing practices.

For example, as more workplaces undergo digital transformation the need for a workforce that is comfortable with various technologically advanced tools has never been more important. Asking for an intern’s feedback on your digital presence and consumer-facing collateral can pinpoint where potential improvements can be made and where new business or custom can be identified.

Social responsibility and diversity

Businesses are increasingly investing in corporate social responsibility and the benefits that come with having a diverse workforce.

Running an internship program allows companies to contribute to ongoing social initiatives by providing valuable opportunities to individuals who may face barriers to entry into the workforce. Employers who actively seek out interns from various demographics can demonstrate their commitment to fairness, equality, and social responsibility – heightening their appeal to professionals looking for 'good' companies to work for.

It’s important to maintain a community-focused approach, ensuring you ‘give back’ by offering young talent the opportunity to thrive and succeed in an internship – helping enhance their career prospects and your reputation at the same time.

Brand image enhancement

In a world where reputation means everything, any opportunity to be seen as an employer of choice can be vital to a successful talent acquisition strategy. Internship programs play a pivotal role in shaping the perception of a company among potential new employees, as well as customers and other stakeholders.

Businesses that actively engage in internships can showcase their commitment to investing in professional development, graduate opportunities, and career changes – creating a positive brand image. This in turn attracts people seeking meaningful opportunities for growth and career progression.

Helping the next generation

There’s a bigger picture to internship programs. Many individuals, especially recent graduates, may face challenges when embarking on a new career path. Those lucky enough to win internships will reap the benefits that come from the experience, not just in adding to their CV, but in self-confidence gained from developing knowledge of their chosen profession, all while making valuable contacts.

Internships ultimately improve future employability and give a head start to those keen to learn sought-after skills in their field, whether that’s invoice management and purchasing in accountancy, or content strategies and communication plans in marketing.

Having interns can potentially help to identify future leaders among your junior employees. When overseeing an intern’s day-to-day activities, some junior employees may demonstrate exceptional management and leadership traits. Once these skills have been identified, you may consider investing in these employees further and upskilling them for future leadership opportunities.

Businesses that offer internships are not just investing in short-term support but are strategically building a foundation for long-term success. An internship is still one of the best ways for professionals to gain that all-important work experience, highlighting the importance a robust internship program plays in growing and expanding the workforce.

Looking to hire experienced professionals to join your team? Contact one of our specialist consultants today.

Transformative talent: how career changers can enrich organisations at any age
3 mins read

Transformative talent: how career changers can enrich organisations at any age

Career changes can help reignite passion for work and are a courageous step at any stage of life. Whatever rung of the corporate ladder an individual has reached, daring to push beyond their comfort zone into a new industry or type of role should be viewed positively by employers. Many workers are looking to fulfil ambitions their original career path couldn’t offer, and after years of experience in a particular sector may be ready to sidestep into something new.

One of the key advantages career changers bring to the table is a wealth of experience gained from diverse industries. Unlike individuals who have followed a linear career trajectory, those who transition between professions bring a multifaceted perspective that can prove invaluable in problem solving, decision-making, and innovation. Their skills and knowledge, acquired over time, can help shape how a team works and even contribute to organisational culture. For example, ex-forces personnel can strengthen communication, discipline, teamwork and leadership in business. 

Here are some other common attributes of those who change their career: 

Resilience

Career changers inherently possess the often-overlooked skills of resilience and adaptability. Navigating the complexities of change, be it industry shifts, new technologies, or different organisational cultures, is second nature to those who have successfully made a career transition.  

This adaptability enhances personal growth and helps employers who rely on teams rolling with operational changes. Resilience under pressure can ultimately save an organisation – whether through an understanding of the nuances of crisis communications or in making board-level decisions.  

Diversity of thought

Career changers, with their varied backgrounds and experiences, inject fresh ideas and approaches to the workplace. This diversity of thought can widen the outlook of a team, influencing new business partnerships, ways of working, as well as cultivating innovation.  

Diversity and inclusion are fundamental to business practice, but many leaders in today’s tech-oriented workplaces are relying on the generation most immersed in digital tools and practices to run the show, discounting those with other capabilities and aptitudes.  

Soft skills

Transferable skills learned across different sectors/industries can be highly beneficial in business, but soft skills are invaluable. Our recent research highlights a new focus among employers to prioritise soft skills over experience in the wake of candidate shortages– good news for career changers who have had years to hone expertise in negotiation, influencing and problem solving. 

Organisations should take steps to challenge age-related stereotypes and welcome those seeking new career journeys. Aside from strength of character, their experience may cover everything from public speaking, networking, customer service to management skills.  

How to attract career changers to your organisation

While the benefits of career changers are evident, it is essential to address the prevalent issue of age bias in the hiring process. The majority of career changers will be people with many years of experience behind them – making their perceived ‘fit’ into a team of younger people a potential issue for millennial leaders/hiring managers. 

A more relaxed approach to role requirements in job adverts can capture the interest of a wider range of people – after all, technical skills can be quickly learned but emotional intelligence, the confidence to experiment, and strategic thinking are harder assets to find.  

Promote stories of career changers who’ve made a difference to your organisation – add case studies and videos to your careers site of employees who found their way into their dream role from other industries. Invite them to become employee ambassadors, attending industry and careers events to help with recruitment. 

Most professionals looking for a different challenge are set on doing meaningful work, rather than trying to climb the corporate ladder or embellish their CVs. Someone who shows genuine passion for an industry or role, regardless of experience, could be your best hire this year. 

Looking to hire experienced professionals for your team? Our experts recruit across 20 sectors and are ready to help you find your next perfect hire. Contact one of our specialist consultants today.  

Five ways your business can reduce presenteeism in the workplace
5 mins read

Five ways your business can reduce presenteeism in the workplace

There is no doubt that absenteeism – regular, unplanned staff absences – is bad for business. But what most employers don’t often realize is that the opposite, referred to as presenteeism, can be just as harmful to your workplace.

What is presenteeism?

Presenteeism is often cited as one of the biggest threats to workplace productivity. It is the phenomenon of employees turning up to work when they are not fully fit, either physically or mentally, and thus performing below their optimal level. These individuals are trying to fulfill their jobs, but due to health problems or other circumstances, can’t work at full capacity.

It can have negative consequences for both the individual and the organization, such as reduced productivity, lower quality of work, increased stress, and higher health risks.

There are various factors that cause presenteeism, such as excessive workload, job insecurity, lack of sick leave, or a culture that rewards long hours and discourages taking breaks. Without a clear separation between work and home – further exacerbated by the introduction of hybrid working – professionals may find it difficult to disconnect and set clear boundaries.

This lack of separation can lead to longer working hours, increased workloads, and, most importantly, difficulty in taking breaks or even time off.

How to tackle presenteeism in your workforce

So, how do you spot the signs of presenteeism, and how do you broach the subject tactfully among your workforce? Here are five ways to banish presenteeism for good:

Recognize the symptoms

Employees with health problems, especially those related to mental health, often feel an inability to disclose their feelings to their manager. At the same time, those in managerial positions are rarely trained to effectively support employees who are struggling.

It’s essential that managers are educated to some degree to be able to notice when employees are showing signs of stress or mental health problems. Not only that, managers need to feel confident and equipped to have open and supportive conversations with employees about their health and overall satisfaction levels while at work.

With almost three in five employees saying they would take less time off work if their employer enhanced the health and wellbeing services available to them, this evidence supports the value of reviewing existing policies and practices. Work-life balance, menopause support, and an ‘open-door’ policy all help build a culture that prioritizes people.

Evaluate your well-being policy

Professionals will often still come to work if they are experiencing long wait times for a doctor’s appointment or if they are unable to get an appointment outside of working hours. This not only impacts the recovery time but can also lead to a build-up of stress while waiting to be seen or awaiting the results of a diagnosis. Ill health, such as colds and coughs, can also be quickly spread around the workplace.

A strategic well-being policy that offers appropriate support can help reduce the impact of presenteeism. Programs that promote good mental, physical, financial, and social health can help prevent illnesses and reduce the impact of long-term conditions. Whether it's discounts to be used on fitness equipment, access to yoga classes, or mental well-being initiatives, a clear plan to help employees can lead to a happier and healthier workforce.

Lead by example

If managers go to work when they are ill, their teams are likely to feel they have to do the same. Leaders need to set a good example and stay at home when they are unwell – especially given flexible working policies are now fully implemented.

Presenteeism often occurs when employees feel they can’t afford to take time off due to heavy workloads, upcoming deadlines or not wanting to burden their colleagues with their absence. It’s important that managers know how much work employees have on, so they are able to help manage it.

Holding frequent one-to-ones or team meetings can help highlight if employees are in need of any support – be it with their work or well-being. This should help reduce any work-related stress and promote healthy working practices to those making a return to work after a prolonged absence.

Clear communication of company culture

Clarify with your workforce about where the company stands on employees coming into work ill, also ensuring a sickness reporting procedure is outlined.

Clearly define and communicate your policies, such as sick pay and time off allowances, and allow employees to ask any questions they may have. It’s also important to communicate the impact that unwell employees coming into work can have on fellow employees, customers, and the wider business.

When you’re clear on where the company stands when it comes to illness and working patterns, employees will feel comfortable staying home and recovering when they’re ill – rather than fearing any potential consequences of doing so.

Empower and trust your employees

It’s the people working in organizations that make the difference. They have the ability to grow business, increase engagement, and enhance reputations. By creating positive and supportive work environments, where employees feel they can take time off when needed, presenteeism can be reduced.

By empowering employees in the workplace, leaders can directly enhance their psychological safety – the belief that they can speak up, take risks, and make mistakes without fear of negative consequences. Employees who feel psychologically safe are more likely to seek help, share ideas, and collaborate with others, which can improve their health and performance.

If presenteeism isn’t already on your radar, it should be. Making appropriate changes to absence policies and aspects of workplace culture will help ensure your workforce is healthier and more motivated. For businesses, an investment in people through good quality employee benefits could be just what workers need to eradicate presenteeism.

If you are searching for a talented professional to join your team, or looking to embark on a new career opportunity, get in touch with one of our specialist consultants today.