In ancient Jewish custom the sabbatical year was a period that came around every seven years during which, in honour of God, the land was left to lie fallow, debts were remitted and slaves were given their freedom. In other words, it was the time to tie up loose ends and make a fresh start. Today, this notion still forms part of our current understanding of a sabbatical year – a period of paid leave granted usually to academics, so that they can engage in scientific research and refresher activities free from teaching duties. In a broader sense, a sabbatical year is understood as a break during which you can try out new activities or delve into those hobbies and interests that were put aside in favour of a more conventional career. So, unlike a gap year, a sabbatical year is an opportunity for professional as well as personal development (if these two dimensions can be separated). It is a chance to leave behind the demands and duties of your job, to collect your thoughts and look more closely into aspects of your life and work.
In Italy, the sabbatical year was recognized as part of working life thanks to law 53 in the year 2000. This law allows both private and public employees with a minimum of 5 years seniority in their current organisation to request a sabbatical year. However, each collective contract in Italy will have its own specific requirements depending on the sector of activity.
To be able to take a sabbatical year, Italian employees are required to submit a plan to their company outlining exactly how they intend to spend the time. On the basis of this plan, the company will decide whether to grant the request or not (without any obligation towards the employee). During the sabbatical year, however, no paid work can be undertaken. To help them put their plans into action, it is possible for workers to request an advance on their severance pay (in Italy employers have to pay a termination indemnity to all employees).
The sabbatical year is classed as unpaid leave, no social security contributions are paid in, years of seniority are not accumulated and neither are holiday entitlements. It is a complete break from work. Jobs are kept open for when employees return and the company can only hire someone else to fill in for the period of absence.
So what are the advantages? Without doubt, being able to focus on your own priorities and fill any skills gaps: from perfecting the use of software or improving knowledge of a field connected to your profession, a sabbatical year is above all a way of looking at the world around your sphere of activity.
Secondly, a sabbatical year is a chance to become more responsible. Not in the sense of ‘growing up’ but rather by making your own decisions and living with the consequences of those choices. It is an approach that obliges you to become quite independent, especially of the typical work environment: the office, colleagues, bosses, deadlines. You leave all this behind, your priority is now to develop your personal skills on a journey that can indeed be undertaken collectively, as long as you achieve your goal to increase your future value on the labour market.