Offering your employees sabbatical leave will not only boost morale and productivity, but it can also make your middle market firm more competitive when luring top talent from bigger companies. When established correctly, sabbatical leave can be a huge motivator for your employees and a secret weapon for your human resources department.

Sabbatical leave can rejuvenate employees

Sabbaticals Make Your Company More Attractive to New and Current Employees

Implementing a paid sabbatical can provide benefits for the employees who get to enjoy the time off — and also for your business. A middle market firm's sabbatical program can be a huge draw when it's competing for top talent with a larger firm that might offer a higher salary. For example, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams, a midmarket firm, offers an attractive employee package that includes a sabbatical program. This program often draws in candidates wavering between Jeni's and other companies, even ones located closer to home.

Not only will you be more competitive in attracting top talent, but you'll also retain more of your current staff, cutting down on the costs involved in looking for and training replacement employees. Typical sabbaticals are given anywhere from a one-year up to a seven-year anniversary. When sabbaticals are offered every five to seven years, it gives employees something to work toward. They're less likely to leave because they have a reward to motivate them. Who wants to leave at year six when they're just one year away from a long vacation? Sabbaticals also give employees a chance to escape burnout or restlessness that might otherwise lead them to look elsewhere for work.

Employees Experience Rejuvenation and a Reduction in Stress

Sabbaticals bring much needed rejuvenation by giving employees a chance to step away and gain an outside perspective on life. A study in the Journal of Applied Psychology found that sabbaticals don't just temporarily decrease stress while you're on vacation; they keep your stress levels down even after you've gone back to work, reports Fortune. But employees only experience these benefits if they truly cut the cord with their office. Those who drop by for visits or attend meetings won't feel as rejuvenated.

Sabbaticals Lead to New Relationships and Ideas

A well-planned sabbatical isn't just a vacation. Employees can develop new relationships with people and businesses that benefit your firm. They may also gain a completely different real-world experience that gives them new ideas for your company. Midmarket firm MeetUp started a sabbatical program in 2014, notes Inc. One employee went to Berlin and visited a Hack and Tell group; he came away with a new idea that resulted in MeetUp opening an office in Berlin.

Some Employees May Need an Extra Push to Take Their Sabbatical

Some employees, especially those taking a sabbatical for the first time after working for five or more years, may have a tough time cutting the cord and stepping away. But it's vital they do this so they can experience the rejuvenation that comes from a real sabbatical. You may need to give your employees an extra push to make sure they take their sabbatical and take it correctly.

Darren Dahl reports for Forbes about a sabbatical program set up by New Belgium Brewing. If an employee wants to postpone their leave, they actually have to make a presentation to senior management and plead their case. One executive even sat down with an employee who didn't know what to do with his time off and helped him plan a trip away. MeetUp approaches its program similarly; one employee, for example, opened a new email account and only read a weekly report from staff during his time away so that he wouldn't get drawn back in.

Sabbaticals can be a wonderful way to encourage and motivate your current employees, giving them a chance to gain new experiences and come back rejuvenated and refreshed. It can also be a great tool in a middle market firm's human resources portfolio for attracting top talent. In the end, the cost of giving loyal employees paid time off is often worth the investment.

What is your firm's sabbatical policy? Do you have any stories to share about employees who had particularly fulfilling sabbaticals? If you're concerned about starting a sabbatical at your company, why? Let us know in the comments below.

Stephanie Dube Dwilson is an NCMM contributor and publicist, journalist and attorney whose work has been featured by Businessweek, Newsmax and other national publications. She regularly reports on breaking news and business for Heavy, and she writes a monthly column for the American Bar Association. Stephanie is often sought by companies to consult on publicity, marketing and business development. You can follow her on Twitter or her blog.