Factors influencing sabbatical decision making.

AuthorUkey, Manjushree
PositionStatistical data

This study found that career progression and promotions are not linked to higher studies in the organizations. Many employees particularly at middle management level still want to avail it to pursue their aspirations and need for personal advancement. Recognition and respect from their professional counterparts and from society at large, job performance requirements and individual aspirations for higher education were the primary reasons to avail sabbaticals. Presence of hygiene factors such as maintenance of seniority, regular salary and retention of accommodation during sabbaticals prompted many employees to pursue higher studies by taking sabbaticals. Bureaucratic hurdles, family responsibilities, negative attitude of reporting managers are major deterrents that beat down the gusto of employees to apply for it.


The word sabbatical has its derivation from the word "Sabbath" and the literal dictionary meaning of it is 'recurring period of rest', 'a leave usually taken every seventh year'. The concept of sabbatical can be traced back in the context of academics. It had started in the late 1880 in Harvard University in the form of incentive to attract potential faculty members. On the lines of Harvard University, other institutions like, Cornell University and Wellesley College brought such system in the middle 1880's. Other universities like Columbia University adopted such a system in 1890 and Brown University in 1891 (Eells, 1962). Fifty US universities had introduced the system of sabbatical leave plans by early 20th century.

The term sabbatical has various connotations in today's workplace. Sabbatical was the perk which was traditionally used by academics while people from other professions looked it upon in an envious manner. But businesses started adopting it as early as the 1960s, with fast-food giant McDonald's Corp., computer chip maker Intel Corp., and some U.S. law firms being among the trailblazers (Elizabeth & Barbara, 2009). In mid-1990s, this idea came up with giving paid or un-paid leave of a month to a year to over-stressed employees of Silicon Valley (Trevor, 2007).

Companies adopt sabbatical policy primarily to motivate their employees, reenergize them and maintaining positive attitude among them. In the survey conducted in 2000 by William M. Mercer, Inc. for Work/Life Initiatives, 15% of 450 large employers offered paid sabbaticals to their employees. Following the trend of giving sabbaticals, 100 companies which appeared in Fortune's list of 100 Best Companies to Work for in America provided sabbatical or similar type of leave. Now sabbaticals are the most popular amongst firms like computer, consultancy and law where people undergo lot of stress and burnout is at higher end (Elizabeth, 1996). Companies like Apple viewed sabbatical as a long term investment rather than a short term cost (Shelley, 1997). It offers six weeks paid sabbatical to its employee in every five years to relax and recharge themselves by staying away from the stressful work atmosphere. California-based Wells Fargo Bank has two types of sabbatical viz. the Volunteer Leave program and the Personal Growth Leave program. HSBC also has the policy of supporting its staff by allowing them to go on un-paid sabbatical up to the period of one year and they also give the priority to their employees who want to re-join the organization up to five years (David, 2012). Many health care executives are also taking positive steps of taking sabbaticals to get the knowledge of supporting industries such as banking, finance, information systems, marketing, and consulting (Andrew & Thomas, 2005).

A paid or unpaid sabbatical which can vary from a few weeks to a year can rejuvenate employees with vigour and energy. This vitality and energy can impact workplace in a positive manner when they return from sabbatical. The organizations that support their human capital in difficult times will see its reflections in the staff's loyalty (Kathleen, 2009). Sabbaticals also promote teamwork as people back each other in their extended absence. It gives time to employees for revitalization and also opportunities to other employees to have new challenges and opportunities for growth in their job (Kirk James et al., 2000). The organizations reported change in behavior of employees and more commitment to work after coming from such leave programs (Andrew & Thomas, 2005). Workplace sabbaticals are mostly driven by the need to learn new skills, higher educational aspirations, personal development, work-life balance, to participate in social cause, to take care of children etc. Many people, who have availed sabbaticals, all cited advantages such as increase in creativity, resilience in jobs, healthier life, more balance in their personal lives, and more connectivity to themselves as well as people around them. They integrate their experiences during sabbatical to day-to-day lives, thus making it the experience of their entire life. They live with these experiences and enjoy what is called lifelong sabbaticals. The sabbatical period gives time to reflect on one's own life, space to relax mentally and physically and also enthusiasm to learn something new that person really enjoy in doing. It becomes life changing experience for persons who go on sabbaticals (Catherine, 2011).

The present study seeks to investigate the factors that encourage or discourage an employee from taking a sabbatical for higher education, and its policy implications for the organizations.

Research Methodology

The study was conducted in The Indian TransCo Board (1) based out of Mumbai. Mixed method approach was used to conduct the study. Data was collected in two phases during the period September 2014 to February 2015. In the first phase, a closed ended questionnaire was administered to 84 samples to elicit responses of employees on issues such as factors that motivate/d them to take sabbatical decision, their views on organizational sabbatical policy including its eligibility criteria, support and benefits extended to employees, hindrances, attitudes of different stakeholders before and after sabbatical etc. Samples were selected purposely. It included employees who are currently on sabbatical, have already availed sabbaticals, those who intend to take sabbaticals shortly and those who have left the organization after availing the sabbatical. Two groups of employees i.e. top managerial employees and middle managerial employees were considered for the study. Both the groups of employees had engineering background and they were engaged in technical jobs in the organizations. In the second phase of the study, semi structured interviews were conducted with 15 respondents who have either already availed sabbaticals or currently on leave. Secondary data for the study was collected from various policy documents of TransCo.

Sabbatical Policy of the Case Organization

The Indian TransCo Board is the apex body of the Indian TransCo. It reports to the Parliament of India through the Minister of TransCo (India). Indian TransCo offers sabbatical up to two years for pursuing higher studies that have a direct and close connection with the sphere of the employee's duty. This period of two year can be availed at one time or multiple times, but the total period should not exceed two years in the entire service period of the employee. Sabbaticals can be given for various purposes such as: i) a training, a study tour or a course where TransCo employees may not attend regular academic or semi-academic courses, but the training or course is certified as a definite advantage to TransCo/ Government with respect to public interest and it is related to the duties of TransCo employees, ii) for studies that are related to framework of public administration, and iii) for the studies which may or may not have close connection with the work of TransCo employees, but it would help in broadening the knowledge level and mind set of TransCo employees so that he/she can perform his/her duties better in order to work in collaboration with other branches of public service. TransCo also gives sabbaticals to a specialist or a technical person so that he/she can pursue a post-graduate course of study that is directly related to the sphere of his/her duties.

Motivation for Sabbatical

While having one on one interaction with the participants some...

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