Singapore: Sabbaticals, leave programs part of banks’ progressive arsenal to attract and retain talent

Banks in Singapore have put in place progressive leave policies in recent years amid intensifying competition to attract and retain talent.

The latest to do so is Citi Singapore, which recently launched a scheme that provides employees with a month of paid leave to lend their skills to charities as volunteers.

Eligible employees can apply for this “giving back leave” to volunteer with a registered charitable organization — with Citi paying their full base salary for that month.

“During the leave, employees will continue to be fully covered by the company’s medical and health insurance, and they will continue to accrue their annual leave,” said Citi in a statement on April 13.

Citi also launched a partially paid sabbatical program that allows eligible full-time employees to take up to 12 weeks off, while still drawing 25% of their monthly base pay.

This is “designed for employees to pursue their personal interests and focus on wellness by providing them with the opportunity to travel, pursue personal goals, spend time with loved ones or simply to take extra time off to recharge,” the bank said.

An employee can take this sabbatical twice, at most.

Checks by The Straits Times with three other major banks in Singapore found that sabbatical programs are in place, with volunteer work a reason that some staff with these other banks cite.

HSBC allows for a sabbatical of up to 12 months, but only the first month is paid, and eligibility is decided based on a minimum term of service as well as individual performance. The bank also has volunteering leave of two days a year.

All DBS employees are also entitled to two days of volunteer leave each year.

Since 2012, OCBC Bank has allowed employees with at least five years of service to take up to three consecutive months of unpaid sabbatical leave for any reason, including volunteering.

Sabbaticals in general are not uncommon, though a fully paid scheme specifically for volunteering is more unique, said human resource observers.

Adrian Tan from the Singapore Human Resources Institute said sabbatical programs are usually found in larger companies as they tend to have more funding and a larger workforce to mitigate any potential impact on operations.

“It can be quite challenging to recruit for a three- to four-month assignment, especially for a senior position,” he said, adding that it is probable that colleagues would have to cover the workload of the person going on sabbatical.

He also said a fully paid sabbatical scheme specifically for volunteering is a “unique and attractive proposition” for attracting and retaining talent.

Evelyn Chow, managing director of strategic human resources consultancy DecodeHR, said sabbatical programs are a tool for attracting and retaining talent that has become much more prevalent by necessity.

“With the post-COVID-19 situation we are emerging from, companies probably recognize some employees would appreciate access to a sabbatical.”