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Why It Pays to Take Time Off

By Justin D'Onofrio

The plague of a stressful workplace is the leading factor for one of the highest burnout rates in Canadian history. According to a study by Leger Marketing in 2017, up to 58 percent of Canadians have reported being overworked. Among Canadian provinces, employees in Quebec and Ontario have reported even more alarming rates of 64 percent and 61 percent respectively.

While HR professionals have adopted multiple tactics to reduce the negative impacts of a stressful workplace, the implementation of a sabbatical leave program has been overlooked as a solution to this problem. This program can offer tremendous benefits for employees and the organization alike.

Sabbatical is derived from the word Sabbath, meaning a period of extended rest; this is typically a break from work, paid or unpaid, lasting between two months and a year. Currently, only 12 percent of Canadian firms offer paid sabbatical leave. Unfortunately, there is a pervasive corporate culture in North America that negatively views extended vacations and sabbaticals, often to the detriment of employees and the organization.


While the idea of granting leave to high-level employees can be worrisome to many managers, it would be a first step in ensuring continued firm growth and employee health. A study conducted by GFK, a market research company, found that approximately 80 percent of managers agree that sabbaticals improve the health and wellbeing of employees, boost morale, and alleviate burnout upon return. Managers also affirm that sabbaticals can have a positive impact on employee output. 78 percent of managers state that vacation can improve employees’ focus upon return; 70 percent agree it renews employees’ commitment to their job; and 64 percent feel it makes employees more willing to work long hours when needed.

Sabbaticals can also alleviate the issue of lost revenue from disengaged employees. Disengaged employees are those that are effectively “checked out”, showing a lack of drive and passion for their work, negatively affecting their productivity. These employees can cost a company as much as $3,400 per $10,000 of annual salary. Losing over a third of a worker’s productivity can seriously harm a business, yet sabbaticals can help reverse this organizational complacency.

Companies must also consider the increased importance of creating an attractive workplace for new entrants in the workforce. Millennials are actively seeking employers that offer the opportunity for extended leave, with 79 percent saying that it would be a major deciding factor when choosing their future employer, according to Cone Communications.


Along with increased employee motivation and engagement, the extended leave of some employees allows firms to bring diversity to leadership positions and provide opportunities for employee development. When an employee stays in a single position for too long, there is an increased likelihood of a stalemate in ideas, productivity and effectiveness. Employees taking sabbatical would leave behind vacant positions requiring temporary replacements. This employment shift would bring new ideas to the position and give aspiring leaders the chance to grow and develop. According to a 2014 study of firms in the non-profit sector, those who replaced employees on sabbatical leave were better able to manage their responsibilities and became more collaborative in their work, upon returning to their previous positions. Thus, taking a sabbatical has benefits for both the employees on leave, as well as those who replace them.


While most companies are reticent to adopt sabbatical programs, there are companies on the other end of the spectrum that have fully embraced extended leave as an effective tool for human resource management. For example, the tech giant Intel has implemented required sabbatical leave, with two months of paid time off per seven years of employment. There is also a growing trend in service-sabbaticals, which are company-sponsored volunteer programs. For example, Citigroup has recently created a sabbatical that allows its junior bankers to work on a four-week microfinance project in Kenya. Also, teams of Citigroup employees from SAP offices around the world can participate in a program assisting social entrepreneurs and NGOs in emerging markets.

These trends indicate a change in the traditional North American corporate ideology that discourages extended vacations and sabbaticals. In this increasingly demanding and ever-changing world, sabbatical programs create an opportunity to decrease employee stress and increase motivation and efficiency within an organization. Evidently, it pays to take time off.


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