Need A Mental Health Break? | Guide to Sabbatical Leave in Australia

April 12, 2021


Are you sick of work?

Thinking of taking time off?

If you’ve been in the same company or role for some time now, the thought of going on a sabbatical or long term break has probably crossed your mind!

But, what is a sabbatical, exactly? Is it the same as unpaid leave? And can everyone take one?

We answer all your questions on sabbaticals and unpaid leave here:

Guide on Sabbatical Leave

ResumeWriter Tip: Are you exhausted or stressed all the time? You might be burnt out. How can you tell? Look out for these burn out warning signs.

What is Sabbatical Leave?

A sabbatical leave is typically defined as a long-term leave period from work.

During this extended break, employees may choose to pursue their own interests such as travelling, writing, volunteering, studying or other activities (or even just rest).

Sabbatical entitlements differ from company to company, but they’re usually awarded to long-service employees, such as those who’ve been with the same firm for 5 years or more.

Sabbatical leave is usually offered as a separate organisational leave policy (check with your HR if your company offers sabbaticals!)

This means your sabbatical leave can be used in addition to your company’s annual paid leave allowance.

Is Sabbatical Leave the Same as Unpaid Leave?

They’re not the same!

Sabbatical leave may be paid or unpaid. It depends on your organisation’s unique leave policies.

Some organisations like Adobe offer paid sabbaticals that include a continuation of all employment benefits.

Sabbaticals are usually a reward for long service at a company, whereas there’s no stringent criteria or service duration before you can request or apply for unpaid leave (unless otherwise stated in your employment contract).

Does Every Company in Australia offer Sabbatical or Unpaid Leave?

Unfortunately, no.

There’s no statutory entitlement of unpaid or sabbatical leave in Australia, so it’s up to individual companies to decide if they want to grant this to employees.

In the Australia Ministry of Manpower’s 2018 Conditions of Employment report, 51.9% of companies in Australia said they allow their employees to take unpaid leave of more than 1 month.

While taking a career break is becoming more widely accepted in Australia, sabbatical leave is still quite rare!

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, only 15% of employers here offer sabbatical leave.

How Long is Sabbatical Leave?

The sabbatical leave period may last anywhere from 2 months up to a year. This duration differs, however, according to the organisation’s leave policies.

For example, Adobe offers 4 weeks of sabbatical leave to employees with over 5 years of experience. Employees who’ve been with Adobe for 10 years are entitled to 5 weeks of sabbatical leave.

Most companies don’t include sabbatical leave in annual paid leave allowances.

This means you’re entitled to your annual paid leave too, on top of your sabbatical leave allowance.

Which Australia Companies Offer Sabbatical Leave?

The National Council of Social Service (NCSS)’s Sabbatical Leave Scheme (SLS) grants social service professionals at least 2 months off, and allows them the opportunity to recharge and refresh themselves. These professionals will still receive salary support while on sabbatical leave.

Another Australia company offering Sabbatical Leave Schemes is F&B and hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group. All staff are entitled to a month-long sabbatical every 5 years to pursue personal interests.

In July 2017, Maybank Australiaalso introduced a Sabbatical Leave Scheme. Maybank employees can apply for sabbatical leave of between 2 and 24 months to recharge and refresh themselves. As a result, half of its 1,800 employees have served at least five years at the bank – a staff retention rate that is “consistently above industry and national statistics.”

Why does Sabbatical Leave Exist?

Going on sabbatical sounds amazing, right?

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Two or more months without work, off to pursue your own interests, and returning to a job that’s waiting for you!

Sabbatical leave allow loyal employees to pursue their own personal interests beyond work – go travel the world, learn a new language, and more!

Some may choose to use this time to develop their professional skills. Others might just want a break.

Sabbatical leave sound great for employees, but what do employers think?

According to Richa Sharma, a manager at recruitment agency Page Personnel, “Companies are becoming more and more open to the idea [of sabbaticals].”

In 2014, 42% of Australia companies “offered unpaid leave to their employees to pursue personal interests or to attend to family matters”. Compare that to the most recent data today – 51.9% of Australia companies allow employees to go on unpaid leave for 1 month or longer.

Employers see sabbatical leave as opportunities to reward loyal employees. This leave scheme also incentivises loyal employees to remain with the organisation for the long-term.

In addition, after a sabbatical, employees return to work recharged and rejuvenated, more than ready to dive right back in!

How to Take a Sabbatical?

Planning to take a long break?

Remember – just because your company offers sabbatical leave, it doesn’t mean your boss or employers will fully embrace the idea of you going on sabbatical.

Sabbaticals can be disruptive to business operations.

So when the time comes, and you’ve decided you want to take your break, here’s how you can go about doing so:

Step 1: Understand Your Company’s Sabbatical Policy

Before making any plans, review your company’s leave policies early on!

This ensures that you’re complying with your organisation’s leave policies – you’ll typically need to apply for sabbatical leave months in advance.

Step 2: Make Your Request to Your Boss – But Be Prepared With a Plan

Give your boss advance notice, so that there’s enough time to make arrangements for your work while you are gone.

But don’t just tell your boss that you want to take your sabbatical.

Share the plan you’ve prepared to cover your absence:

  • Give suggestions on who could take over your duties
  • Specific scopes of work that they can take on
  • How long they would need to cover these
  • Other resources needed to follow through on these arrangements

Going in prepared demonstrates accountability and professionalism, and presents you as an employee who’s committed to returning to your job.

Step 3: Plan beforehand – Make your Checklist and Set Sabbatical Goals

You only get to go on sabbatical once every 5 years or so. Use your time well!

Before you start your sabbatical, plan a schedule and set goals for yourself.

What will you be doing each week? Is there something you want to achieve at the end of this?

Even if you fully intend to rest and recharge during your sabbatical, it helps to have some sense of structure.

Perhaps you’ll want to slot in some scheduled time to exercise, to pick up new hobbies, or catch up with friends.

If you blindly amble through your sabbatical, it might be over before you know it.

Step 4: Don’t Forget Company Rules!

While you’re on sabbatical, don’t forget that you’re still an employee!

Continue to adhere to your organisational rules, including NDAs, Confidentiality Agreements and agreements that bind you to your company.


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Sabbaticals are a great opportunity for you to relax after an extended time with your company.

They give you the time to grow personally and professionally, and pursue interests beyond your career.

It’s exciting to think about your upcoming sabbatical now, but don’t get too carried away before leaving!

Be a responsible employee.

Always adhere to your company’s leave policies, and ensure your duties are covered before enjoying your well-deserved break.

ResumeWriter Tip: Is your sabbatical or break too far away? Are you in need of more immediate stress relief? These burnout recovery and stress management techniques will help!

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