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Sabbaticals can help with talent attraction, retention, experts say

February 8, 2022
The Canadian Press

(Mariusz Blach/Adobe Stock)
By Leah Golob

TORONTO — Sally Phuong took a four-week sabbatical from her job as an account executive at Sun Life Financial last year so she could participate in a professional floral design program at the Canadian Institute of Floral Design in Toronto.

Phuong, 37, plans to retire at 55 from Sun Life and open her own floral store. In the meantime, she’s looking to hone her skills on evenings and weekends with a part-time job in the business.

“It worked out really nicely that I was able to take a break from work knowing that my job was there and that I could return to it refreshed and bring back any skill set that I learned,” Phuong said.

As the pandemic continues, more employers are looking to beef up their benefits packages by adding sabbaticals into the mix.


A survey last July by recruiting firm Robert Half Canada found 38 per cent of Canadian HR managers indicated they plan to offer a leave of absence or sabbatical as a benefit in 2022. The result compared with a report in August 2020 that said 30 per cent of Canadian HR managers said they would offer this kind of benefit in 2021.

At the onset of the pandemic, many organizations restructured and laid off employees. The remaining staff were left with higher workloads, which has contributed to the widespread cases of burnout that we’re seeing, said Mike Shekhtman, regional director of Robert Half Canada.

It’s also been a challenge for many individuals working from home to unplug, Shekhtman added.

With many employees now looking for a substantial break, sabbaticals provide a chance to recharge beyond the traditional two- or three-week vacation, he said.

Terry Hatherell, managing partner of partner and alumni experience at Deloitte Canada, said there’s a strong case for sabbaticals because they help with talent attraction and retention. Sabbaticals can also prevent future health and well-being issues, which might result in a disability leave or leave of absence.

Hatherell said there’s a higher success rate when employers work with employees to link a sabbatical to core values and enhancing a sense of purpose.

He considers three-month sabbaticals as short-term sabbaticals, and said breaks of this length with a defined purpose are seen as very attractive for generation Z and generation Y employees.

For employers open to sabbaticals, it’s important that they communicate to employees that they’re an option, so people don’t end up resigning with the assumption that their personal pursuits won’t be supported, Shekhtman said.

Likewise, employees curious about sabbaticals should speak to their managers to see if they’re an option, and explain why they would beneficial and what they want to do during that time, he added.

In terms of the etiquette around asking, Shekhtman recommended workers wait until they’ve put in a couple of years worth of service to show they have a proven track record with the organization.

“I think it’s something that is earned over time,” he said.

In Phuong’s case, she described her sabbatical experience as a win-win for both her and Sun Life. It was a chance to refresh and pursue her personal goals, while also bringing value to her current role.

“With floral school, you’re learning about the business aspect of it and the art of negotiating, and that definitely ties into my current role.”

The 2021 Robert Half survey was conducted online between June 4 to July 1, 2021 and included responses from 800 senior managers at Canadian companies with 20 or more employees. The 2020 survey of 600 senior managers was conducted between July 10 and Aug. 9, 2020. Neither online survey can be given a margin of error because internet panels are not considered to be truly random samples.

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