• Lyndall Farley

The 5 C's of making your company sabbatical program a success

Updated: Aug 16

Do you have a sabbatical policy for your company, but wonder why no one uses it? This is really common. 47% of UK companies and 29% of US companies have a sabbatical policy, but very few promote and support it properly to make the program a success for their people and the business.


But a successful sabbatical program needs more than just a policy. This article takes you through everything you need for a company sabbatical program that delivers benefits for business and employees.


Follow the 5 C's of a successful sabbatical program

1 - Culture and leadership support

2 - Communication

3 - Coaching and guidance

4 - Community

5 - Calculate benefits



There is a huge difference between having a sabbatical policy document that no one knows about, and launching a sabbatical program that encourages people to take sabbaticals to recharge and proactively look after their own wellbeing.


Related: The difference between a sabbatical policy and a program


But what makes a sabbatical program a success? Here are five “must have” elements for a thriving sabbatical program.


1. Culture and leadership support


Before you even start building your program, ensure leadership are on board and support the program. Without leaders setting the tone at the top, the messages of support won’t trickle down to employees. It’s entirely possible to have a company with a sabbatical policy that in practice, no one uses because employees don’t see that management will support them if they ask for a sabbatical. The best form of support is, of course, a senior leader taking a sabbatical and telling their story. Nothing says support like walking the talk!


Leadership also need to be visible in their support for people taking sabbaticals and in the way they talk about sabbaticals in the organisation. Make sure you’ve prepared your leaders with some key talking points about why you’re launching a sabbatical program and why they believe in it.


It's also important to look at the wellbeing culture of your company. Are people taking vacation? Are people supported in having balance between their work and life? Do managers and leaders role model self care and promote a culture of wellbeing?


Sabbaticals will support and promote a wellbeing culture - they won't fix it. Sabbaticals alone will not be enough to change the culture. If they are implemented into a culture of broken wellbeing, people won't feel supported to take them and the program won't deliver benefits for the business.


However, sabbaticals are an excellent way to amplify a wellbeing benefits program and promote a culture of wellbeing that is building within a company. Sabbaticals should fit into an existing wellbeing strategy and provide flexibility for people to take care of themselves.


2. Communication


Communicate, communicate, communicate… then communicate some more. In our distracted world, people have about a millisecond of attention that’s given to a message. You need to be clear, compelling and tell a story that resonates with them. Communicating about your sabbatical program is no different.


Start with Why - Tell them why your company is investing in sabbaticals. (If you’re not sure – check out all these benefits). Tell them why they should take one and how and when they can do it. Address their fears – will their job be there when they return? (Yes!) Will they miss out on promotions? (No!) Will their manager support it? (Yes!) Inspire them with inspiring stories from people returning and benefits to them in taking one.


Your sabbatical program needs a communication plan that clearly and consistently talks about sabbaticals so it's top of mind and builds a buzz around it. It needs ongoing messaging at all levels of the organisation talking about the program, inspiring people and speaking directly to employees needs and fears.


3. Coaching and guidance


Telling someone the rules and conditions of the sabbatical is not enough. Employees need tools, tips and guidance on how to make a sabbatical a reality and how to fit it into their life and work. Provide guidance on deciding if a sabbatical is right for them, designing the best experience, planning their work coverage, how to disconnect and how to smoothly return and integrate what they’ve learnt. This will help the employee get the most out of the experience.


Good planning also de-risks the process for the company by ensuring solid work coverage plans are in place and helps to ensure that employees return, stay and thrive. Check out the Beyond a Break Sabbatical Toolkit which guides people across the whole journey. Companies can leverage these materials and upload to their own intranet space.


Some employees may need extra one on one support from a Sabbatical Coach. Taking a long break from work can create a lot of fear and anxiety, particularly for people on the path to burnout. These people are exactly the people who need a sabbatical the most, to prevent burnout, however are unlikely to take one if they aren't supported in making the decision and designing the time according to their individual needs. This is where employee sabbatical coaching can really help. It's not needed for everyone, but it can make a real difference when it's most needed.


4. Community


The best advocates for your sabbatical program will be the people who’ve benefited from it. Create a community of people who’ve returned from sabbatical and those who are interested in going. This can be as simple as a group on your internal communication platform (Slack, Yammer etc) or adding stories to regular companywide communications. Ask sabbatical returnees to write about their experience share their stories to inspire others. Hearing about someone ‘just like them’ who has walked the path before helps people enormously in overcoming their fears about taking a sabbatical .


People talking about how great sabbaticals are and how great your company is for offering them, is the best way to get sabbaticals embedded into your company as something that’s normal, supported and often used.


Build a peer to peer community that connects sabbatical returners with the 'sabbatical curious' people in your company. They can share experiences, advice and inspiration and start a groundswell of support for sabbaticals.


A sabbatical program is also a great reason to communicate outside your company to prospective employees. These days, companies need to compete for talent based on more than just a pay cheque. A sabbatical program is a great benefit that helps to attract people looking for a company that will support their wellbeing.


5. Calculate benefits


Measuring whether sabbaticals are really contributing to the improved wellbeing of your employees is the absolute bottom line. If it’s not doing that, then why would you continue. It’s critical that you collect data and calculate the success of what you’re doing.


There are two ways to measure this. Explicitly measuring the before/after wellbeing using a questionnaire or survey. And measuring indicators like burnout rates, attrition, sick leave, billable hours, sales or any other measure of productivity that's applicable to your business.

It’s also powerful to couple any quantitative measurement with qualitative data – Ask people about the benefits the sabbatical brought to their career, life, wellbeing. These stories, as well as the data you collect on the benefits, will be powerful and should feed back into your communications approach for promoting the program



These are the 5 C's for supporting your sabbatical program

1 - Culture and leadership support

2 - Communication

3 - Coaching and guidance

4 - Community

5 - Calculate benefits


By doing the above five things well, you’ll take sabbaticals from being an unknown or under-utilised benefit to a powerful wellbeing booster for your company and employees.


Want help? Of course! That’s what Beyond a Break is all about. We can support you to make sabbaticals a success in your company. We can help you set up or amplify your sabbatical program with sabbatical program consulting, sabbatical workshops, employee coaching and the employee sabbatical toolkit.


Get in touch to discuss how we can help you bring sabbaticals to life in your company



 

Beyond a Break uses the power of sabbaticals to help people and organisations recharge and thrive.