Study Leave - The Definitive Guide for Employers

What is Study Leave

Remember when you were at school and thought learning was like, so boring, and you just could not wait to leave and get a grown-up job because adults were having all the fun? And then you left, got a grown-up job and realised that school was where the fun was all along, and a day spent with your head in a book learning something new was a pretty great day. Turns out, learning is cool. If only you had a time machine…

Fortunately, there’s a way to go back to school and still enjoy all those perks of being a gainfully employed adult (anything you want for dinner, choose your own bedtime, more pocket money). And the great news is, you don’t need to time travel or quit your job, because you can use study leave.

Table of Contents

In this article, we’ll look at what a great thing study leave is, and why all businesses should be offering it and all employees should be biting their hands off to take it.

What is study leave?

Study leave is pretty self-explanatory – it’s time off with the specific purpose of studying, or training. It can be used to complete courses, attend workshops, conferences or seminars, training to acquire a specific skill or certification or take study days. It can also be a longer-term sabbatical with the aim of personal and professional growth.

In the UK, adult employees of organisations with 250 employees or more have the legal right to ask for study leave if:

  • They have worked for their employer for at least 26 weeks
  • The training/course they intend to complete will help them do their job better

The right to ask for it doesn’t mean that the request will be granted, and study leave doesn’t have to be paid – though it is usually an addition to the usual leave allowances. But savvy employers can and do go much further than this, paying for the leave and/or the training itself.

What are the benefits?

The benefits of study leave for the individual employee are huge:

  • Learn new skills
  • Build knowledge
  • New experiences
  • Opportunities to meet new people and network
  • Staying up to date with new trends and innovation in your industry
  • Fresh perspective and exposure to new methods and approaches
  • Staying compliant and certified (if relevant)
  • Showing a commitment to professional development
  • Boosting your CV

Frankly, anyone who’s remotely interested in climbing the career ladder and progressing in a particular profession would be mad not to take any training opportunity they can get. With study leave, they can take a more proactive approach and find something that aligns with their personal career goals.

Not having been coerced into it, like compulsory staff training, will mean staff are more likely to be deeply engaged in that learning. They will return armed with new ideas and skills and be keen to put these into action. If you’re the boss who was generous enough to grant that study leave – and even more so if you’ve paid for it – you’ll be the one to benefit from the development of that talent.

If you’ve hired well and have staff who really want to work in your sector, industry or even niche, the courses they choose to study to further their career goals will likely be aligned with your business interests. This will magnify the business benefits of study leave for the employer.

Attracting top talent

Perhaps the biggest benefit to a business of offering study leave is that it will act as a siren call to top talent. And we’re talking quality, not quantity here. Offering study leave is a sure-fire way to grow your business through a focus on people. How?

  • Appeals to continuous learners: Talented people who seek out and thrive on constant growth and development will be drawn to a business that actively supports this. By offering time off specifically for learning/training opportunities, you show you are aligned with their desire for constant growth.
  • Supports curiosity and innovation: Those with inquisitive minds and a large intellectual appetite are always seeking new knowledge and experiences. A study leave policy gives them the opportunity to explore new subjects, deepen their expertise and bring innovative ideas and thinking back to their role.
  • Demonstrates commitment to employee growth: Study leave shows an employee that you value their professional development and will invest in their future. Talented people are often interested in advancing their careers, and study leave will help them gain new skills and qualifications, positioning them for advancement and promotion within your company.
  • Creates a positive work culture: Last but not least, a culture that values learning, and development is hugely attractive and typically leads to a more engaging, fulfilling, and productive work environment. This will be appealing to top talent who will want to work with like-minded people in a place that encourages growth.

The people who will be drawn in by a study leave offering are exactly the kinds of people you want working for you. And if your study leave offering is a permanent fixture, not a one-time offer, you will keep hold of these bright stars for the long term. Mutually assured growth is a pretty enticing offer on both sides, we think.

It’s such a big thing in attracting talent, that there’s even an accreditation body – ACCA – who recognise, publishing lists of ‘top employers’ based on their commitment to facilitating training and development. Trust us, you want to be on those lists.

Our wonderful clients Chart Accountancy are ACCA Approved Employers. Operating in a field with constantly changing regulations and complex legal requirements, they know that to excel their staff need to be – and stay – on top of their game. To support this, they offer generous study leave to ensure their staff’s ongoing education and embody the firm’s ethos of professionalism and skills-building.

Are there any downsides?

There’s no such thing as a free supper, as they say. And study leave, despite its immense benefits, does have a few niggly downsides that you should consider when designing and implementing your policy:

  • Temporary drop in productivity – as with any type of leave, when someone isn’t around, they’re not contributing to productivity. This could lead to either a drop in productivity or an increased work burden on others (don’t go for this option, please). But remember, this is only a temporary drop, and that loss could be offset by productivity gains on their return if they’re more skilled, knowledgeable or efficient.
  • Cost of cover – this isn’t unique to study leave, but cost is always something to consider. If someone is off for a prolonged period you may incur costs to cover their absence, with temp staff, contractors or extra shifts/over time for their team.
  • Risk of departure – this is the one everyone seems to fear. But what if I invest in my employees only for them to leave and someone else get the benefit? Sure, this could happen. But the more important question is: what happens if you don’t invest in your staff?
  • Admin – managing study leave requests while ensuring workloads stay balanced and service/operations don’t suffer can create an administrative burden. We hate to break it to you, but there’s no success in business without admin. You’ve just got to suck it up and get on with it – fortunately, there is software for everything these days, and leave management is our specialty!
  • Unequal opportunities – if study leave is not offered equitably or transparently, it may create or widen disparity between employees and create resentment. This is an easy one to avoid with clear guidelines and criteria, and active promotion across and within all levels of the company.

So like any leave policy, there’s some scope for misuse and you’ll need to have great leave management processes and tools in place to ensure absence is covered and there’s no loss in productivity. A happy and healthy ethos and work environment will do your work for you with the rest.

We think it’s unlikely you’ll see much damage from the ‘hit it and quit it’ types – once they’ve had a taste of your supportive, growth-minded culture and seen a glimpse of their own thriving future within it, they won’t be looking at the door.

Employees are humans, and it is likely that when you’ve expressed belief in their potential and shown your commitment to helping them reach it, they will feel a sense of gratitude, reciprocity and obligation. Some people might take it and run; most will want to pay you back in some way and return the favour. The truth is, you can’t know for sure what they’ll do – but this is always true, and it isn’t a reason not to invest in your staff.

Key takeaways

Overall, the good hugely outweighs the bad and we think it’s as close to a win-win as you can get in an imperfect, competitive employment market. Study leave doesn’t just benefit the person taking it. A rising tide lifts all ships, as they say. All growth within your company is good growth, even if happens at the individual level. 

After all, a business is the sum of the individuals (with all their skills, knowledge and experience) within it. Study leave has immense and wide-ranging business benefits that mean making it a core part of your leave policy is a strategic, not benevolent, move.

Abi Angus Leave Dates


Abi is a freelance writer based in Brighton & Hove, UK, writing for businesses about work, life and everything in between.