Two-thirds of employers (68%) allow staff to take some form of extended leave – including sabbaticals – according to a survey by Personnel Today’s sister publication Employment Review.
Most commonly, such arrangements meant that employees could take the bulk of their basic paid holiday entitlement at one time, or that they could extend ordinary paid holiday by adding unpaid leave under certain circumstances.
The survey of 135 organisations found that sabbaticals – lengthy paid or unpaid breaks from work, usually to pursue personal or career development opportunities – were rare. And just 12% said that employees were paid during sabbaticals.
But extended leave arrangements were more common. Often, these were permitted so that employees could visit family overseas, and a number of employers said that foreign workers were allowed to take their full year’s leave in one go to return home.
The survey found that extended leave entitlements were most commonly found in the public sector, where nine out of 10 employers (90%) had such arrangements. They were also more common in organisations that recognised trade unions (73%).
Fewer manufacturers (66%) or private sector services firms (63%) had policies permitting employees to take extended leave, but in both circumstances such firms were still in the majority.
… and employers begin to see benefits
Most organisations that offer extended leave and sabbaticals believe that they benefit from such arrangements, the Employment Review survey shows.
Six out of 10 (61%) employers said by offering greater flexibility in this area they were able to build employee loyalty to the organisation and improve retention.
Other employer benefits included improved employee relationships and good-will (9%), better motivated employees (8%), and the introduction of new skills and knowledge when employees had been away from the organisation (6%).
Employers also believed that they could improve their employees’ work-life balance (10%) and raise morale (5%).
But many have strict rules and regulations about the circumstances under which extended leave can be taken and restrict what employees can do during their absence.
Typically, employers expect staff to have five years’ service and a good employment record before applications will be considered. Some organisations cut this to one or two years’ service.
A large element of line manager discretion is also common in these cases, although such policies may fall foul of the law if employees claim to have been treated differently from their colleagues.
Few employers expect their staff to follow personal or career development programmes, but most insist that those who take extended breaks do not use it to take paid employment elsewhere – particularly for competitors.
…but religious festivals are not on the agenda
Few employers (14%) have introduced formal arrangements to allow staff to take time off for religious reasons, the survey shows.
Most organisations with formal religious holiday arrangements in place said that time off would be taken as part of an employee’s normal paid leave.
Although employment tribunals have interpreted the law on religious discrimination in favour of claimants whose work rosters prevented them attending church, even fewer employers formally give priority in booking holiday to those wanting to take leave for religious reasons.
Coventry City Council said it had one “faith day” a year in its annual leave entitlement. But two respondents said the only religious occasions they recognised were Christmas and Easter.