Employee burnout is out, early sabbaticals are in.
The pandemic and remote work gave way to a rise in burnout among workers across all industries, causing them to place greater value on their work-life balance while reconsidering their loyalty to the organizations they work for. To stem burnout and boost retention, major companies are now offering paid sabbatical leaves — and some much earlier than those traditionally offered by just a small share of employers.
Bank of America, which has over 200,000 employees, touted its sabbatical program when it launched in 2022. It gives up to six paid weeks off to employees who’ve been with the company for 15 years.
But others like PayPal, Adobe and Zocdoc let employees take a paid month-long break after just five years on the job. Diffusion PR, an agency based in New York City, offers them after three years.
Sophie Conners started her first job out of college at Diffusion five years ago and already took her first paid month-long sabbatical. She’s eagerly awaiting her next once she hits six years.
“I felt like a retired 25-year-old,” Conners, who now serves as campaign director, said. “I consider myself very lucky to work somewhere that does this.”
During her break she moved from NYC to Austin, Texas, with her fiancé, where they bought a house, got a dog and settled into their new place. “You get to a place where for days on end you truly are not thinking about work,” she said.
When she was away her client accounts were taken over by coworkers. Diffusion has about 40 employees globally. Upon her return she felt much more refreshed, creative and motivated, she said.
Just 10% of companies offered paid sabbatical leave in 2021, a survey from WorldatWork, a compensation and rewards company, found. Though that’s up from 8% in 2016.
And 29% of companies offered unpaid sabbaticals, up from 18% in 2016, according to that survey, which included over 800 U.S.-based respondents across industries.
Some companies have more recently rolled out the benefit for those early in their careers amid the Covid-19 pandemic. In late 2021, medical and dental appointment booking platform Zocdoc started offering four-week paid sabbatical leaves for employees with five years of service at the company. After 10 years, employees can take eight weeks of paid leave.
The program hasn’t been a burden despite fears that lengthy absences would mean other workers must shoulder too many additional duties, Chandler Martin, senior director of people at Zocdoc, said. And when employees return they’re eager to do their best work.
“You have someone with deep institutional and organizational knowledge who has this big reset,” Martin said. “They come back recharged, but also they’re so tapped into the business.”
It’s also a great way for a company to demonstrate its values, he said, especially as the benefit is offered to employees at all levels of the organization.
“The fact that your manager can go take a sabbatical makes you feel like ‘hey, I want to stick around for five years and also take a sabbatical,’” he said.
Another company offering early sabbaticals is Adobe, which offers the benefit to employees who’ve worked for the company for five years, even if it is part-time. Those working at least 24 hours a week can take a paid month off within two years of their fifth-year work anniversary.
Those who stay even longer can take multiple sabbaticals throughout their career. At 10 years they can take another five weeks off, and at 15 they can take six weeks off.
The loyalty component and influence on engagement is one of the biggest organizational benefits of offering extended time off.
“They can work on hard and important problems and see their impact over a long period of time,” Jessica Aptman, Zocdocs’ chief communications officer, said.