Are Sabbaticals HR's Answer to the Great Resignation?


HR Insights for ProfessionalsThe latest thought leadership for HR pros

Monday, July 25, 2022

As employers face up to the problem of people leaving their jobs in high numbers, offering sabbaticals could be an effective way to improve retention.

Article 4 Minutes
Are Sabbaticals HR's Answer to the Great Resignation

Businesses, industry sectors and the entire global economy continue to grapple with the long-term consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of the challenges many companies have faced is an increase in people quitting their jobs.

This phenomenon has been dubbed the Great Resignation, and it's giving employers some big questions to answer where talent retention is concerned.

If you're prepared to take action to keep hold of your most valuable employees, one course of action you could consider is offering sabbaticals, which can prove beneficial for businesses and workers alike.

What is the Great Resignation?

The idea of the Great Resignation was initially proposed by Professor Anthony Klotz of Texas A&M University, who posited that the gradual return to 'normal' as the worst effects of the pandemic eased would coincide with a sharp increase in resignations.

This appears to have been backed up by recent labor market data. In the US, for example, the number of people voluntarily leaving their jobs reached a record high of 4.5 million in November 2021, up from 4.2 million in October.

In-depth analysis of specific trends suggested resignation rates are highest among mid-career employees and those working in the technology and healthcare sectors.

Pew Research Center survey also revealed that the most common reasons for workers in the US to quit their jobs last year were:

  • Low pay
  • Lack of opportunities for career advancement
  • Feeling disrespected at work

In the face of these challenges, employers need to give careful consideration to their talent retention strategies and activities.

What are you currently doing to deliver a positive employee experience and reduce the risk of your top people leaving, and how could you approach this differently?

Sabbaticals could be the solution

Some companies are seeking to make stronger connections with workers and reduce staff turnover by offering sabbaticals - extended periods of paid or unpaid leave that come with an assurance that the individual will have a job to come back to after their time off.

This approach gives people the chance to take some valuable time away from their jobs, safe in the knowledge that their role will be left open for them. This time could be used for anything from simple relaxation to traveling or acquiring new skills.

Many successful organizations have decided to make sabbaticals available to their employees, including PwC, Citigroup and Synchrony Financial.

This has become particularly common in recent years, largely as a result of the pandemic and the impact it has had on everything from the way people think about their careers to their overall mental wellbeing.

DJ DiDonna, a co-founder of The Sabbatical Project, said extended breaks from routine work have tripled in the past four years.

"The pandemic is forcing people to make a change and to think about life and about themselves in a way they probably wouldn't have ever done normally." - DJ DiDonna

Making sabbaticals a part of your employee value proposition is certainly a big commitment that requires some careful thought. If you choose to go down this route, there are various benefits you may be able to achieve, including:

  • Increased staff satisfaction and commitment: Employees will appreciate the opportunity to take sabbaticals and will return to their jobs with a stronger sense of job satisfaction and commitment to the company.
  • Enhanced skill sets: Some people could be attracted to the idea of extended leave because they want to acquire new skills or pursue additional training. This will help them bring new capabilities and additional value to the business when they return.
  • Chances for other employees to prove themselves: When one member of staff takes a sabbatical, it could present opportunities for other workers to pick up the slack and demonstrate their own abilities and potential.
  • Stronger employer brand: Offering sabbaticals will demonstrate your commitment to looking after your staff and consequently make you a more attractive prospect to job candidates.

Make sure it's the right option for you

Before committing to a decision where sabbaticals are concerned, you should feel confident it's a feasible option for your organization.

Make sure you have satisfactory answers to the following questions:

  • Who will be eligible to take sabbaticals and how will you ensure this benefit is fairly and equally available?
  • Will employees need to meet certain conditions (such as length of service) before being able to apply for a sabbatical?
  • Will you continue to pay staff while they're on leave, and if so, how much?
  • How will you ensure regular business operations aren't disrupted or disadvantaged by people taking extended periods of time off?

If you've done your research and you feel confident that introducing sabbaticals will be a positive step for your organization and your workforce, it could provide a major boost to your efforts to combat turnover and retain essential talent.

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