Content prepared by the Sloan Center on Aging & Work at Boston College

Time off provides leave from work for a defined period of time to address unexpected or ongoing personal and family needs. With approval from their employer, individuals take various forms of paid or unpaid leaves of absence from work. For instance, employees might request time away from work in response to personal or family illness, military service, the birth or adoption of a child, and for educational or training pursuits. (41) These leaves are typically negotiated between the employee and his/her employer and are designed to allow the employee to respond to:

  • the desire to (temporarily) participate in educational opportunities;
  • the necessity to take care of family or household tasks and responsibilities;
  • the need to recover from illness or improve one's own health;
  • the need to take care of a loved one;
  • a preference to focus on personal or professional development.

Time Off in Short Increments

  • Short-term time off is used to address the ordinary predictable and unpredictable needs of life (e.g., a sick employee, a sick child, a child's school conference, a death in the family, a home repair).


  • Episodic time off is used to address a recurring predictable need for time off from work (e.g., an employee who has-or cares for a family member who has-an illness or chronic health condition that flares up sporadically, an employee who voluneers regularly in the community, an employee who is obtaining advanced training).

Extended Time Off

  • Extended time off is used to address a need for time off from work for a single reason that extends for more than five days but less than one year (e.g., caring for a newborn or newly adopted child, having a serious health condition or caring for a family member with a serious health condition, or serving in the military).
  • In contrast to other forms of workplace flexibility, extended time off (leaves of absence) is the only flexible work option mandated by a federal law: the Family and Medical Leave Act. The FMLA provides up to 12 weeks per year of unpaid, job-protected leave in order to care for a newborn child, a newly adopted child, or a newly placed foster child; care for a child, spouse, or parent with a serious health condition; or seek medical treatment for or recover from the employee's own serious health condition, including pregnancy. To be eligible for FMLA leave, employees must work for private companies with 50 or more employees, or for a federal, state, or local governmental agency. (Governmental agencies do not have to meet the 50 employee test.) Employees seeking leave must also have worked for their employer for at least one year and for over 1,250 hours during the last year. See http://workplaceflexibility2010.org/index.php/laws_impacting_flexibility/fmla/
Benefits to EmployeeBenefits to Employer Challenges
  • The benefits of leaves of absence are similar to those reported for flexible work options in general, such as lower work-family conflict, higher job satisfaction, greater perceptions that the supervisor is supportive of employee's family and personal needs. (3)
  • With leaves of absence, individuals can maintain their relationships with their employers, yet have a break from work responsibilities. Such breaks help individuals to engage in renewal, undergo new skill development, travel, conduct military service, attend to caregiving or health demands, or prevent burnout.(57)
  • Employees who have been able to take a leave may, when they return to the workplace, demonstrate higher organizational commitment, and the employers may experience reduced turnover and employee replacement costs. (3)
  • While an employee is on a short- or long-term leave of absence, the work that the employee would usually perform still needs to be accomplished. Managers must determine whether current co-workers can perform the work through cross-training, reassignment, and overtime, or whether temporary workers need to be hired and trained to perform the work.
  • Additional costs to the employer for wages, benefits, recruitment, training, and related expenses might be incurred



Time Banking

Time banking is a flexible plan in which staff work their regular schedule for a slightly reduced rate of pay for as long as 12 months—essentially "banking: this compensation away, and then cashing it out in the form of a mini-sabbatical.

Benefits to EmployeeBenefits to EmployerChallenges
  • The employee has time to travel, spend with family, participate in community service, or pursue another interest.
  • Employee has continuity of benefits and retains job security
  • The company believes sabbaticals will help it retain women, who tend to have more family responsibilities than men, and lure Generation Y men and women recruits who want to work hard, but don't want work to be their life.
  • Need to coordinate coverage so that there will be continuity of functions while employee is on sabbatical.
  • May be additional costs associated with temporary coverage, job cross-training, or overtime.