Workers take extended break from work, don't lose job

Sabbatical now an option at 16 percent of companies in United States

By Erik von Ancken - Anchor/Reporter

ORLANDO, Fla. - Ever feel like you need an extended break from the daily grind -- time to recharge, see the world or work on other projects so you can return to your job refreshed?

For many people, months off is not a pipe dream but an actual option.

[WEB EXTRA: Click here for info on how to take a sabbatical]

While more than a third of America's companies offer job sharing, flex time, or telecommuting, a growing number of companies are now offering employees the option of a sabbatical. This means that employee can take a chunk of time off without fear of losing their jobs.

Brian David Johnson is a futurist. His job is to help predict what technology will be like a decade from now. But he recently took a few months off to focus on the here and now.

"When you spend that much time focusing on your mental health, your physical health and intellectual health, you come back as a changed person," explained Johnson.

He's among a growing number of professionals with the opportunity to spend time on sabbatical taking anywhere from 6 weeks to a year off to travel, volunteer, or fulfill a life goal.

"If you look at our current reality, we've got longer work days, there's a real blurred line between personal and professional lives. Sabbaticals offer an opportunity to refuel and recharge," said Dan Ryan with the Society for Human Resources Management.

A recent survey found 16-percent of companies now allow unpaid sabbatical leave with the trend increasing because job demands have intensified.

"The sabbatical is a very innovative way for companies to hang on and keep some of the really prized individuals, the ones who really make a difference," said Ryan.

Workers who take this extended leave typically have to meet certain requirements, like being employed a set number of years or doing something specific, like volunteering.

"Some companies have what I would call very rich plans, where they'll pay full, full salary and benefits. Other companies will say you can keep your benefits but we're only going to pay half your salary. And there are even circumstances where other people will take a sabbatical that will be unpaid but they will have a job when they actually come back," said Ryan.

What if your company doesn't offer the option? 

Elizabeth Pagano McGuire, of says you should negotiate it.

"Why would giving you time off benefit your team and your boss? You have to really spell that out. How is your work going to be done while you're gone? Put that into a proposal," said McGuire.

Johnson, who spent a year planning for his break, used his time away to write books.

"It allowed me to sort of get out of the mindset of corporate America and actually delve more creative projects," said Johnson.

Some big name companies like McDonalds, Men's Wearhouse, The Container Store, and American Express are now offering sabbaticals.

And more are offering the idea all the time as a way to avoid layoffs.

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