Should Your Church Staff Employees Take A Sabbatical?


One of the most innovative and successful high-tech companies in the world for the last thirty plus years is the Intel Corporation.  Intel is the world’s largest computer chip maker, based on revenue.  The company’s “Intel Inside” marketing campaign and logo have made it a household name.  I have had the privilege of knowing several of the early chip designers and leading executives and have had some Intel executives on my leadership team and church staff. 

One of the most innovative things that Intel did early on had nothing to do with computer microprocessors or technology.  

Starting in 1981, Intel was the first major U.S. corporation to offer an eight week sabbatical to its employees after every seven years of employment. 

This sabbatical was added to whatever vacation time the employee had accumulated, so potentially, an employee could be off for three months. 

This practice of a sabbatical every seven years at Intel became well-known in the corporate world and was applied to every employee in the company, from the Chief Operating Officer to the cafeteria worker.  Now at Intel, in any given year, about 4,300 Intel employees take a sabbatical (1 in 20 employees).  At Intel, they encourage the employee to completely break from their company responsibilities by closing their email accounts and not checking voicemails.  The sabbatical can be used for whatever the employee chooses: go on an adventure, do volunteer work, learn a skill, reconnect with family, or simply recharge your batteries.  Many Intel employees have countdown calendars in their cubicles, counting down the days to the start of their sabbatical.  Employees at Intel must take their sabbatical within three years of eligibility.

Today, between five and ten percent of U.S. companies offer paid sabbaticals to employees. It can help prevent burnout and is a great recruitment tool and incentive to attract top-level employees!  It can also bolster employee retention.

There are many other benefits to sabbaticals besides preventing burnout and attracting potential hires.  One executive said, “Business continued seamlessly while I was away . . . maybe that should worry me!”  Other employees have to pick up the slack, and they are trained in areas they might not otherwise cover, which can deepen the strength of the organization.  The employee returning from sabbatical is recharged and more productive over the long haul, and it more than makes up for the time away.  Companies that use a sabbatical say it is one of their most cherished benefits, and people are routinely heard to say, “Don’t ever take away the sabbatical!”  Many HR people say the sabbatical has benefits to both the employee and the employer.

As church leaders, maybe we should take a cue from the corporate world and consider this as a benefit for our church staffs. 

As a lead pastor having familiarity with the Intel practice, my church staff and I incorporated the sabbatical for salaried senior level staff at the church.  Most companies still tie it to years of service, with seven years being the most common length of employment to be eligible.  Following that example, senior staff employees were eligible for a sabbatical every seven years of employment. 

The length of the sabbatical offered is much more varied, so pick a length that makes sense to your situation and church.  Increased productivity from a church staff member who is fresh and recharged will more than pay for the time away.  If you have a valuable staff member who is only a couple of years away from a sabbatical, that person may think twice about jumping to another ministry position.  

When trying to attract a new staff member to your team, the offer of a sabbatical could be a powerful recruiting incentive.  There are potential benefits on all sides for offering this cherished perk.  Talk with your church staff and leadership team about whether or not instituting a sabbatical policy for your team would be helpful to your staff culture. 

Does your church staff have a sabbatical policy? What do you think are the pros and cons of sabbaticals?