What Is Sabbatical Leave? | How It Works in Singapore

February 26, 2023

Are you sick of work?

Thinking of taking time off?

If you’ve been in the same company or role for some time now, the thought of going on a sabbatical or long term break has probably crossed your mind!

But, what is a sabbatical, exactly? Is it the same as unpaid leave? And can everyone take one?

We answer all your questions on sabbaticals and unpaid leave here.

Guide on Sabbatical Leave

These are the most common questions people have about sabbatical leave – let’s look at them in more detail.

ResumeWriter Tip: Are you exhausted or stressed all the time? You might be burnt out. How can you tell? Look out for these burn out warning signs.

What is Sabbatical Leave?

A sabbatical leave is typically defined as a long-term leave period from work.

During this extended break, employees may choose to pursue their own interests such as travelling, writing, volunteering, studying or other activities (or even just rest).

Sabbatical entitlements differ from company to company, but they’re usually awarded to long-service employees, such as those who’ve been with the same firm for 5 years or more.

Sabbatical leave is usually offered as a separate organisational leave policy (check with your HR if your company offers sabbaticals!).

This means your sabbatical leave can be used in addition to your company’s annual paid leave allowance.

Is Sabbatical Leave Paid?

The answer is that sabbatical leave and unpaid leave are not the same thing, with the only similarity being an extended period of time away from work.

Sabbatical leave may be paid or unpaid. It depends on your organisation’s unique leave policies, but paid sabbatical leave is common amongst large companies.

Some organisations like Adobe offer paid sabbaticals that include a continuation of all employment benefits.

Sabbaticals are usually a reward for long service at a company, whereas there’s no stringent criteria or service duration before you can request or apply for unpaid leave (unless otherwise stated in your employment contract).

How Common is Sabbatical vs Unpaid Leave in Singaporean Companies?

Short answer? It depends.

Long answer, there’s no statutory entitlement of unpaid or sabbatical leave in Singapore, so it’s up to individual companies to decide if they want to grant this to employees.

In the Singapore Ministry of Manpower’s 2022 Conditions of Employment report, full-time employees with annual leave entitlement of 15 days or more have declined from 34.4% to 33.7%.

While those with over 21 days dropped from 13.2% to 11.8%.

While taking a career break is becoming more widely accepted in Singapore, sabbatical leave is still rare!

It’s an excellent way to encourage employees to find a work-life balance and can help retain talent, too.

How Long is Sabbatical Leave?

The sabbatical leave period may last anywhere from 2 months up to a year. This duration differs, however, according to the organisation’s leave policies. It could be one month, two months, three months or six months.

For example, Adobe offers 4 weeks of sabbatical leave to employees with over 5 years of experience. Employees who’ve been with Adobe for 10 years are entitled to 5 weeks of sabbatical leave.

Most companies don’t include sabbatical leave in annual paid leave allowances.

This means you’re entitled to your annual paid leave too, on top of your sabbatical leave allowance.

Which Singapore Companies Offer Sabbatical Leave?

The National Council of Social Service (NCSS)’s Sabbatical Leave Scheme (SLS) grants social service professionals at least 2 months off, and allows them the opportunity to recharge and refresh themselves. These professionals will still receive salary support while on sabbatical leave.

Another Singapore company offering Sabbatical Leave Schemes is F&B and hospitality company The Lo & Behold Group. All staff are entitled to a month-long sabbatical every 5 years to pursue personal interests.

In July 2017, Maybank Singapore also introduced a Sabbatical Leave Scheme. Maybank employees can apply for sabbatical leave of between 2 and 24 months to recharge and refresh themselves.

As a result, half of its 1,800 employees have served at least five years at the bank – a staff retention rate that is “consistently above industry and national statistics.”

Why does Sabbatical Leave Exist?

Going on sabbatical sounds amazing, right?

Two or more months without work, off to pursue your own interests, and returning to a job that’s waiting for you!

Sabbatical leave allows loyal employees to pursue their own personal interests beyond work – go travel the world, learn a new language, and more!

Some may choose to use this time to develop their professional skills. Others might just want a break.

Sabbatical leave sound great for employees, but what do employers think?

According to Richa Sharma, a manager at recruitment agency Page Personnel, “Companies are becoming more and more open to the idea [of sabbaticals].”

In 2014, 42% of Singapore companies “offered unpaid leave to their employees to pursue personal interests or to attend to family matters”. Compare that to the most recent data today – 51.9% of Singapore companies allow employees to go on unpaid leave for 1 month or longer.

Employers see sabbatical leave as opportunities to reward loyal employees. This leave scheme also incentivises loyal employees to remain with the organisation for the long-term.

In addition, after a sabbatical, employees return to work recharged and rejuvenated, more than ready to dive right back in!

How to Take a Sabbatical?

Planning to take a long break?

Remember – just because your company offers sabbatical leave, it doesn’t mean your boss or employers will fully embrace the idea of you going on sabbatical.

Sabbaticals can be disruptive to business operations.

So when the time comes, and you’ve decided you want to take your break, here’s how you can go about doing so:

Step 1: Understand Your Company’s Sabbatical Policy

Before making any plans, review your company’s leave policies early on!

This ensures that you’re complying with your organisation’s leave policies – you’ll typically need to apply for sabbatical leave months in advance.

Some companies provide various incentives and benefits for employees regarding sabbaticals.

For example, Citi Singapore offers eligible full-time employees who take up to 12 weeks of sabbatical leave to be paid 25% of their monthly base pay.

Find out some of the best companies in Singapore to work for to get the most significant benefits.

Step 2: Make Your Request to Your Boss – But Be Prepared With a Plan

Give your boss advance notice, so that there’s enough time to make arrangements for your work while you are gone.

But don’t just tell your boss that you want to take your sabbatical.

Share the plan you’ve prepared to cover your absence:

  • Give suggestions on who could take over your duties
  • Specific scopes of work that they can take on
  • How long they would need to cover these
  • Other resources needed to follow through on these arrangements

Going in prepared demonstrates accountability and professionalism, and presents you as an employee who’s committed to returning to your job.

Step 3: Plan beforehand – Make your Checklist and Set Sabbatical Goals

You only get to go on sabbatical once every 5 years or so. Use your time well!

Before you start your sabbatical, plan a schedule and set goals for yourself.

What will you be doing each week? Is there something you want to achieve at the end of this?

Even if you fully intend to rest and recharge during your sabbatical, it helps to have some sense of structure.

Perhaps you’ll want to slot in some scheduled time to exercise, to pick up new hobbies, or catch up with friends.

If you blindly amble through your sabbatical, it might be over before you know it.

Step 4: Don’t Forget Company Rules!

While you’re on sabbatical, don’t forget that you’re still an employee!

Continue to adhere to your organisational rules, including NDAs, Confidentiality Agreements and agreements that bind you to your company.


Sabbaticals are a great opportunity for you to relax after an extended time with your company.

They give you the time to grow personally and professionally, and pursue interests beyond your career.

It’s exciting to think about your upcoming sabbatical now, but don’t get too carried away before leaving!

Be a responsible employee.

Always adhere to your company’s leave policies, and ensure your duties are covered before enjoying your well-deserved break.

ResumeWriter Tip: Is your sabbatical or break too far away? Are you in need of more immediate stress relief? These burnout recovery and stress management techniques will help!

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Harry Suresh
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