Companies offering sabbaticals to keep workers happy may come at a cost

  • With unemployment dropping, companies are getting creative when it comes to retaining top talent.
  • Some employers are using sabbaticals to keep workers happy — but they may come at a cost, says Glassdoor's senior director.

With the unemployment rate below 4 percent and competition for skilled workers increasing, companies are getting more and more creative when it comes to attracting and retaining top talent.

In 2017, 17 percent of companies offered their employees sabbaticals, but only 5 percent offered a paid medium-term absence benefit, according to a survey by the Society of Human Resource Management.

While more companies are offering this as a way to help keep their employees happy, some experts caution it does carry some potential hazards.

For example, if employees are away for a really long time, "it does put someone's skills potentially at risk…they could come back kind of rusty," Glassdoor Senior Director Scott Dobroski told CNBC's "On the Money" in an interview.

In addition, Dobroski said that employee may not want to come back.

"A sabbatical, in part, is meant for someone to discover something new, learn new skills, get enriched in some way, and what if they like that option better?"

While it may be a risk for the employer, Dobroski says it's not a risk for the employee — even though some employees may fear seeming replaceable.

"Employees who are taking sabbaticals and employers who are allowing these employees to take sabbaticals are typically good to outstanding performers," he said.

He added: "These employers after several years want to give them extended time off knowing that it is actually a tool for retaining the employees long term."

Hiking to a scenic viewpoint.
Jordan Siemens | Getty Images

Companies like Nike, Deloitte, Intel and McDonald's all have a sabbatical program in place, but for smaller companies the perk may not be an option.

"It's possible, but it's difficult." said Dobroski.

"If you were to offer that, an employer at a small- or medium-size business would really have to be clear about what duties that person is handing off to other people and/or bringing in perhaps an outside consultant or some help for x amount of months," he added.

While companies may start to think about offering this perk, Dobroski stated they should first find out if this is something the employees even want, or if there is another benefit they would rather have.

According to research conducted by Glassdoor, Dobroski suggested the top three perks employees want are:

  • A really good health care program
  • 401(k) Benefit program
  • Vacation and paid time off

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 a.m. ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.