Sabbatical, leave programmes part of banks' arsenal to attract and retain talent in Singapore

Sabbaticals in general are not uncommon, though a fully paid scheme specifically for volunteering is more unique. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - 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 organisation - 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 last Wednesday (April 13).

Citi also launched a partially paid sabbatical programme that allows eligible full-time employees to take up to 12 weeks off, while still drawing 25 per cent 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.

The two schemes together form Citi's new resiliency programme, which recognises "the important role that companies play in employees' financial, mental and physical well-being as well as community support".

They are offered to staff who have been with the bank for at least five years and meet other criteria.

Singapore is the first of Citi's outposts in the Asean region to roll out the resiliency programme, with Hong Kong and Japan also part of the programme's initial launch in Asia.

Checks by The Straits Times with three other major banks in Singapore found that sabbatical programmes 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.

At DBS Bank, sabbatical leave has been available since 2019 for employees who have been with the bank for at least five continuous years.

The unpaid sabbatical can be taken for up to three months, and every employee can have two sabbaticals during their time with DBS.

Life and medical insurance coverage will be maintained during staff sabbaticals, said Ms Lee Yan Hong , head of group human resources at DBS.

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.

But this is subject to approval based on operational requirements, said Ms Jacinta Low, head of human resources planning.

She said employees continue to be covered for paid medical and hospitalisation benefits during the three months, and the bank will hold their positions for them.

She added: "In the event that our employees require more time away from work due to personal or family circumstances that require focused and personal attention, they can also request to take longer periods of unpaid sabbatical leave."

Upon their return, the employee may be reassigned to another role, at the same rank.

She also said employees can take one day off for volunteer work each year.

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

Mr Adrian Tan from the Singapore Human Resources Institute said sabbatical programmes 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.

Ms Evelyn Chow, managing director of strategic human resources consultancy DecodeHR, said sabbatical programmes 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 recognise some employees would appreciate access to a sabbatical."

She added that the trend towards more progressive policies like sabbaticals and even no-limit vacation days cuts across sectors, rather than being confined to specific sectors like tech and finance.

Mr Tan noted that in terms of recruitment, banks now compete with other companies emerging in the financial industry, such as fintech and buy-now, pay-later firms.

"Every bank as an employer has to really ramp up their attraction and retention efforts, especially if their branding is not as well known as their competitors'."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.