Successfully managing sabbaticals and extended leave

Offering the option of extended leave – whether that’s a career break, sabbatical or simply additional time off – is increasingly popular for businesses of every size. It provides the opportunity to hang on to talented staff who might otherwise leave, and can means that staff return to work better skilled and better motivated.

Sabbatical Cezanne HR


However, if it is to work for both the business and the employee, it’s important to manage it properly. Here are five tips for success, and how you can use Cezanne HR to help improve the way it’s managed.

Have a Policy

While there is no obligation for employers to provide sabbaticals or career breaks, having a written policy prevents misunderstandings and can protect against discrimination claims should one employee be granted their request, and another refused.

• Entitlement  Is the benefit only available to employees with a certain length of service or seniority? Are there other criteria that need to be met? For example, to ensure adequate cover for their role or department.

• Duration  How long will you allow an employee to take off? Do they have to take it all in one hit, or as shorter periods? Does a return to work date need to be specified up front?

• Contract Implications  Generally a career break is taken to mean an extended period of time off, and often involves the employment contract being terminated, but with an offer to re-employ, sometimes with continuity of employment in relation to certain employment rights. Sabbaticals and unpaid leave generally apply to shorter periods of time, perhaps several months or just a few weeks, and may mean the contract stays in place.

• Salary  Will you pay the employee all or part of their salary? Are they still entitled to the same benefits and bonuses while away?

• Holiday Entitlement  How will you manage holiday accruals? Will employees still be entitled to your standard contractual allowance if it’s more than the legislative minimum? Can holiday be carried over, or must it count towards the leave period?

• Position on Return  Will you guarantee the employee their old job back, or one that is similar? Do you need to allow for the possibility that your needs may change, and you no longer have a role for them?

For updates on the latest best practice and legal implications, check out the ACAS website.

Publish Your Rules

If offering this kind of benefit to employees is an important part of your retention strategy, it makes sense to ensure everyone knows about it. Talk about it during recruitment or inductions; remind long-serving staff that it could be available to them (especially if you think they may be getting itchy feet); and publish the latest policies in your HR portal.

A popular feature of Cezanne HR is the integrated HR portal. It makes it easy to share policy documents with employees, and to let everyone know each time changes are made. If required, you can even set up different portals, for example, to reflect local differences based on geographic location or seniority of employees.

Record What’s Agreed

Even if you have a policy, it is good practice to document your discussions. Put the final arrangements in writing and ensure the employee confirms they’ve agreed to it. Remember to clearly spell out both the obligations of the employee (for example, to stay in touch and return on the date specified) and the employer (do you guarantee a job on their return, and if so, will it be the same or similar?). That way, you’ll avoid any disappointment or disputes about who promised what.

With Cezanne HR, you can send documents to employees for them to confirm they’ve read. The document is securely stored against the employee’s record, so stays as a permanent record of what was agreed.

Let an HR System Take the Strain

For HR, managing all of the implications of granting extend periods of leave, whether that’s a sabbatical, career break or simply additional unpaid time off, can be challenging. What are the implications for salary, bonuses, paid leave or continuity of employment? Where do you go to check when an employee is due back at work, and whether they are aware of the latest changes in the business? How do you ensure that all leave requests are dealt with fairly?
A modern HR system should have the flexibility to let you easily record and manage any kind of absence. So can also take away much of the administrative overhead. For example, with Cezanne HR you can:

  • Automatically calculate holiday entitlements based on the rules you set. For example, whether they are entitled to standard company allowance, or minimum entitlement, if holiday can be carried over etc.
  • Record adjusted salary payments for the relevant timeframe (with a full history), so you can generate accurate data for payroll.
  • Manage extended career breaks by ending deployment, but keeping the employee record active in the system. This means you can simply pick up their employment record again when they restart work (and protect continuity of employment if this is required).
  • Show that the employee is on sabbatical in the calendar to help managers or colleagues with planning.
  • Run reports to show who’s away and when they are due back.

Stay in Touch

If employees are out of the loop for more than a couple of months, it’s easy to become disengaged. By staying in touch on a regular basis, you can help employees to feel more involved and much better equipped to slot back into the business when they start work again.

The HR portal in Cezanne HR provides an easy way to share information and stay in touch. General news, such as company updates can be shared via the HR portal. And, you can set up a dedicated portal just for staff that are away – and perhaps their line managers too. Members of the group can access documents, add their own news, and post questions or share ideas. And, each time documents are updated or news added, they’ll receive an email notification. It’s a straight forward way to keep the conversation flowing.

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