Away They Go: Introducing Paid Sabbaticals At Magoosh

Away They Go: Introducing Paid Sabbaticals At Magoosh

Peter on December 13, 2019

Although I now work in operations, finance and HR, I started my career as a public school teacher in Washington, DC. Towards the end of my five-year teaching career, I started to really dread going to work. Teaching is a hard and demanding job, and it was taking its toll on me emotionally.

(Note: this next paragraph contains a reference to self-harm; if that’s something you struggle with, you might want to skip it.)

I have a vivid memory of walking to the school I taught at one morning and thinking “Hmm, that car isn’t going too fast. I bet if I jumped out in front of it I’d get hurt enough to get some time off. It’d be bad, but not too bad.” At the time I remember laughing at how preposterous that thought was and (thankfully!) did not jump in front of moving traffic.

With the perspective of time, I can now recognize that this was a completely unhealthy thought that should have indicated I was in a seriously rough state.

I was experiencing burnout.


Image credit: Nickvector (licensed via Shutterstock)

I ended up leaving the teaching profession, going to business school, and getting a job at Magoosh. But I never forgot that feeling of burnout, and I try to be aware if I see it in others.

Fortunately, Magoosh is a company that prioritizes the whole lives of its employees. We have a flexible vacation policy, generous benefits and parental leave, and a culture that specifically eschews perfectionism. But we’re still a startup, and that means there’s always more to do than there is time to do it. Work is often a sprint, and you just can’t sprint forever. I want to make sure no one who works at Magoosh ever feels that same sense of burnout I felt in DC.

That’s why we’re introducing Sabbaticals at Magoosh.

Magoosh now offers six-week fully-paid sabbaticals for qualifying full-time AND part-time employees who have worked at Magoosh for five years or longer, averaging at least 24 hours per week.

You can take a look at our sabbatical policy (the document we shared with all employees when we rolled this benefit out back in October) here if you’re curious about the specifics.

Why offer sabbatical to our employees (especially as a small company)?

The goal of Magoosh’s sabbatical benefit is to encourage longevity with the company, prevent and alleviate burnout, and help longer-tenured employees get a fresh perspective on work.

In addition to this being good for the individuals who take it, there is some compelling research that a sabbatical policy can be good for the company overall.

Magoosh employees have also shown an interest in having a sabbatical policy. We have an “Ideas and Brainstorming” section of our company Asana, and offering a sabbatical benefit has been a proposed idea for quite some time.

So, for a company wanting to attract and retain great employees — and help them do their best work — offering a sabbatical benefit seemed like a great next step.

But why now? Well, Magoosh grew substantially in 2013 and 2014, adding many new employees in that time (including me!). A lot of us are still working at Magoosh, and some of us are in need of a break. After having conversations with a few long-tenured employees, we decided that 2019 was the right time to prioritize creating a sabbatical policy.

How we structured our sabbatical program (and challenges we’ve faced so far)

When we first set out to make a sabbatical policy, we thought that the biggest issues would be hammering out the specific rules (length of service, length of sabbatical, etc.). It turned out those questions were pretty easy to answer, but then others were surprisingly tricky!

Let’s start with the easy stuff.

Length of service. We pretty quickly settled on five years as a good length of time. When we looked at other companies that offered sabbatical, five years was the most common requirement. I’ll admit, as a linguistic purist, I really wanted to keep to the traditional seven year duration (“sabbatical” comes from the biblical “sabbath”, as in “on the seventh day, He rested”). But five years is far more common in corporate sabbatical, and is also a nice round number.

Length of sabbatical. We chose six weeks as the length of time for a couple of reasons. Again, this length is comparable to length of sabbaticals at several other companies that offer them. Additionally, it feels long enough to be meaningful, but not so long that it would be particularly difficult for our teams to plan around.

Eligibility criteria. Everyone at Magoosh was aligned on the idea that we wanted to be able to provide sabbatical benefits to both our part-time and full-time employees. We have several part-time employees who have worked at Magoosh for many years, helping literally thousands of students individually. We modeled our part-time sabbatical requirements after Adobe’s, offering the benefit to folks who work the majority of their week at Magoosh (three out of five days, or 24 hours per week).

These points came together pretty quickly. But, as I said, it was the other questions that came up that really made us think. “Can I take a sabbatical in smaller chunks?” “Can I save up sabbaticals and take twelve weeks after ten years?” “Can I combine sabbatical with other PTO, unpaid time, or leave?”

We really struggled with some of these questions! On the one hand, we want employees to do what is best for them and don’t want to put up arbitrary restraints or rules. On the other hand, sabbatical really only benefits the company when employees take the time in a way that is restorative.

We decided to align our approach to these trickier questions around a guiding principle: The purpose of sabbatical is to give employees lengthy, uninterrupted time away from work so that they come back to Magoosh with a fresh perspective and renewed energy. If an employee wants to use their sabbatical time in a way that is in alignment with that principle, then we’re generally OK with it.


Image credit: Alena Ozerova (licensed via Shutterstock)

Our first employee to take sabbatical will go out in December 2019, and we have four more already scheduled for 2020 (including our CEO’s in late summer — have fun Bhavin, we may or may not fold our bagels in half while you’re away!). While our sabbatical is optional, we do hope that everyone who is eligible takes it.

I’m sure we’ll have more challenges and bumps along the way as we prepare for and go through our first employee sabbaticals. If you’ve taken a sabbatical, let us know in the comments what challenges you and your organization faced. And if you’ve never worked at a company with a sabbatical policy, maybe now’s the time. Check out our careers page for open roles and join our team! 🙂