With just about everyone trying to hold onto their jobs from quarter to quarter, the word ”sabbatical” is rarely being uttered in the IT work environment these days. Yet it’s still a tremendous career tool, for both IT managers and their staffs, and it shouldn’t be completely dismissed due to economic conditions and fear of job loss.

The key is convincing the CIO and the VPs that a sabbatical can do a world of good for both the employee and the company in terms of professional development. A sabbatical can either be a paid or unpaid leave that allows an employee to master a new skill without having to balance workday responsibilities. When an employee returns to work, he or she is not only better skilled but is typically rejuvenated and is back to giving 110 percent.

Put a sabbatical policy in place
An IT manager’s first step is to implement a sabbatical leave policy if the company doesn’t already have one in place. This requires approval from the upper levels, like the CIO, CEO, and CFO. Then you should initiate a conversation with the company’s HR department, as they can help a great deal in making sure the policy is legal and fair for employees.

A sabbatical policy needs to clearly outline employee eligibility requirements, which traditionally focus on an employee’s tenure and performance. The policy also needs to state the maximum amount of sabbatical leave employees can take in a given time period.

To help IT managers craft a sabbatical policy, I’ve developed a draft sabbatical policy  that TechRepublic members can download as a guide.

The policy covers many issues that come into play both in terms of allowing an employee to take a leave and dealing with losing a staff member for a certain period. Here are just a few of the leave-policy points that IT managers need to take into account:

  • Company compensation determinations
  • The sabbatical’s educational focus
  • Post-sabbatical evaluation requirements
  • Outline of how employee’s work will be handled during sabbatical time

The policy must clearly indicate that the employee’s job will be retained and that there is no employment risk in taking a sabbatical. Perceiving that taking a sabbatical will hurt their careers will ensure that your employees will not take this chance. Education on how the program works, and full cooperation from the senior management is key to having a successful sabbatical program.

Creating a sabbatical request form
Once you’ve created a sabbatical policy, IT managers should create a sabbatical request form that interested employees would need to fill out. The form should require the interested employee to specifically outline the goal, need, and expected ROI on the sabbatical effort.

Download this draft sabbatical form  to use as a guide in developing your own request application.

The request form should identify how the sabbatical will help the employee and the company. The form should also include a place for the employees to craft a list of qualifications, benefits, and a concise description of the sabbatical activity.

A true sabbatical program will be contingent on the positive evaluation of the following considerations:

  • The validity of the employee’s proposed objectives
  • The soundness and practicality of the sabbatical plan
  • The candidate’s capability to successfully complete the proposed plan
  • The costs and benefits to the company and its programs
  • The benefit to the individual and the company

Reaping the rewards
In addition to boosting professional development, enacting a formal sabbatical policy and program can improve staff morale, and even help retain ”star” performers who are eager to learn new skills.

In establishing a program, IT management must ensure that the department can meet business and production needs without the employee, and that there is expected ROI to the IT effort.

Ultimately, the true measure of success (or failure) of any program hinges fundamentally on a company’s full support and participation. Companies that operate at the frontline of new technology and knowledge face not only internal pressure to resolve their own problems in an inventive way, but they also must be fully aware that former employees usually become new employees at potential competition. By implementing a formal sabbatical program, IT managers have the opportunity to retain the people they worked so hard to train.