Why My Company Implemented a Paid Sabbatical Program for Employees

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Its impact is unmatched and it might be easier to implement than you think.

Aaron Stahl, an Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) member in Tulsa, is the CEO of P3 Cost Analysts, a nationwide contingency-based consulting franchise which helps businesses and governments save thousands on their overhead expenses in areas such as telecom, energy, waste, recycling, copier leases and more. We asked Aaron about his recent decision to implement a paid sabbatical program for employees. Here’s what he shared:

I was familiar with the term “sabbatical,” but the idea didn’t resonate with me until I read Tim Ferriss‘ revolutionary book, The 4-Hour Workweek. In it, he advocates for taking sabbaticals as “mini-retirements” throughout one’s life.

At age 26, that idea was particularly appealing. I didn’t want to work my life away, then hope I was healthy enough at 65 to enjoy retirement. And honestly, like most entrepreneurs, retirement wasn’t even on my radar. I had no plans to retire, but the idea of taking mini-retirements along the way sounded fantastic.

I vowed I would try to take a sabbatical, or mini-retirement, once every five years. I’ve stuck with that plan for the most part, and am about to embark on my third.

In 2011, I was 29 years old and took five months off to live in Medellin, Colombia, and learn Spanish. In 2017, I pursued my passion for aviation and became a flight instructor. I spent six months in Alaska giving flight instructions and exploring the state by plane. As of this writing, I’m about to head to Cape Town, South Africa, to enjoy my third mini-retirement adventure.

As a result of these experiences, and for the reasons detailed below, we recently rolled out a paid sabbatical program to employees in our company. Here are five things I’ve learned and why we think a paid sabbatical program can benefit both the business and our employees.

1. Paid Sabbaticals can make your business stronger

Offering paid sabbaticals forces you to build redundancies in your company to fill in the gaps while you, or your employees, are away. While there’s never a good time to leave, and it’s certainly not easy to fill in the gaps, I strongly believe that taking time out to smell the roses is worth the effort. And each time I came back after my sabbatical, not only was I rejuvenated but also the business was stronger! Yes, cracks can develop–some did–but finding those can ultimately benefit your business and employees who are given the chance to step up and enjoy the challenge.

2. It’s not that much extra vacation

We offer one month of paid sabbatical leave for employees with five years of tenure, two months for employees with 10 years, and three months for employees with 15 years. This may not work for every company, but we’ve found it’s a small price to pay for that much commitment. For example, awarding an employee with a one-month paid sabbatical after five years is slightly less than one week of extra vacation each year.

3. It builds loyalty and can attract extra talent

It’s becoming harder and harder to compete in the post-Covid world. Everyone offers flexible work environments. Offering paid sabbaticals to employees has helped add to our culture and makes us more competitive.

4. Paid sabbaticals build employee camaraderie

Employees will, of course, have slack to fill when someone takes a paid sabbatical. In some cases, temporary help may be needed as well (admittedly, paid sabbatical programs will be more affordable for companies with salaried vs. hourly employees). However, employees enjoy knowing that they are helping to give someone the gift of time off–especially because they know that gift will be reciprocated. Our only requirement for the sabbaticals is that employees share with the team what they are enjoying during their mini-retirement. Whether that’s staying home and reading 100 books or traveling the world, it’s fun for the team to know they are positively impacting their co-workers’ lives.

5. It might be the greatest perk

Paid sabbaticals might be the most impactful thing we could offer employees (and ourselves as owners). There is always time for growth or improving the business, and never a good time to leave. But taking time off from work to pursue the things that are important to us is worth both the effort and any potential risks or slowdowns in growth. Ultimately, when we build the business correctly, we can have our cake and eat it, too–and foster a company that doesn’t rely on any one person to achieve growth and continue serving its clients.