It’s easy to see that the word sabbatical bears relationship to Sabbath and Shabbat. Understanding the connection helps to understand the definition. Sabbath and Shabbat are religiously defined breaks in the Judeo-Christian tradition dating back to the call for a day of rest once weekly. Sabbatical takes this concept further and can be a period of rest, or more often work, that might continue for a year long or longer.
There are certain professions in which sabbaticals are common. In the university system, college professors with tenure can have rights to take a sabbatical every seven to ten years upon application. Note that in the seven-year arrangement, there is still comparison to resting on the seventh day.
In many colleges, people receive full pay for the time they take off, which may exceed or be less than a year. Since the university supports this leave, a job is not in danger when a sabbatical is taken. Instead the employer and employee agree on its necessity.
What a professor might do on a sabbatical may depend on how the university interprets the leave. Some see it as a break time where teachers refuel and avoid becoming burned out in their profession. Others see this time as an opportunity to learn more so they have more to offer the university in which they work.
Thus, the sabbatical could involve research, taking classes, traveling, completing work for publication or other things. Most often, though this break is considered “time off,” it’s really not a vacation or an idle time. It’s used to acquire more knowledge to benefit both the teacher and the college in which he/she works.
While the sabbatical is most often associated with college professors, there are other professions where this break could be offered to employees, especially those employees who have worked a certain amount of years. It’s not uncommon for religious leaders like priests, rabbis, imams, and ministers to occasionally be offered a sabbatical. This, again, could be more than a break, and might be used for the purpose of studying or for spiritual reflection.
Many other professions view sabbaticals as potentially positive things, even though they may cost money upfront for a company. Paying an employee for up to a year’s non-work can be expensive, but some employers feel that it is ultimately a savings. If an employee comes back from a break rejuvenated and full of new ideas, the employer could really benefit. Moreover, in some professions, full pay isn’t offered, and the employer merely guarantees the employee’s job will be held for him or her during the period of leave.