Job alternation leave

In Brief

A research project, funded by Ministry of Labour, was implemented in the Department of Philosophy and Social Sciences at the University of Jyväskylä. The project started in May 2004 and finnished in June 2005. The project analysed the impact of job alternation leave to overall employment, and specifically to the selection of substitutes and their employability, to overall well-being of the alternators and whether the use of job alternation leave affected overall work career and activities of the work organizations.

Contact information

Jouko Nätti, PhD, Docent

Timo Anttila, PhD

Maarit Manninen, MA

Mia Väisänen, MA


Job alternation leave started in Finland as a two year experiment in the beginning of 1996. The temporary act was extended in several phases until the end of 2002. A new Act on Job Alternation Leave (1305/2002) was effective from the beginning of 2003 and is enforced until the end of 2007. 


What is job alternation leave (sabbatical)?

Job alternation leave means an arrangement whereby an employee, in accordance with a job alternation agreement made with the employer, is released for a fixed period from the duty to carry out work covered by the service relationship while the employer at the same time engages to hire for a corresponding period a person registered at an employment office as an unemployed jobseeker. The term alternator refers to the person taking the job alternation leave and substitute refers to the person registered at an unemployment office as an unemployed jobseeker who has been hired to work during the alternator's leave.

More information on Ministry of Labour.

A summary on the first experiences of job alternation leave during 1996-1997. 

Aims, tasks and methods of the research project

The aim of the study was to investigate the effects of the job alternation leave:  

(a) to overall employment, and substitutes' employability and their selection;

(b) to overall well-being at work and specifically if the job alternation leave has impact on the length of the work career; and

(c) to the activities of the work organizations.

Research tasks

The study explored:

(1) The extent and characteristics of job alternation leave (alternators, substitutes, and work organizations).

(2) Significance of the job alternation leave for the alternator: well-being and later work career.

(3) Significance of the job alternation leave for the substitute: selection and employability. 

(4) Significance of the job alternation leave for the work organizations activities and work.

Research methods

The study implemented both quantitative statistical data and methods, and qualitative interview data and methods.


Summary of the findings

Jouko Nätti, Maarit Manninen, Mia Väisänen ja Timo Anttila: Taking turns to refresh. A follow-up study of the Finnish job alternation leave system.(Vuorotellen virkeäksi. Vuorotteluvapaan seurantatutkimus.) Labour Policy Studies no. 279. Ministry of Labour, Helsinki 2005.


The aim of the present study was to analyse the effects of the job alternation leave system on the well-being and overall length of the work career of the job alternators, as well as the selection of the substitute workers and their later employability, and the overall effects of the system on the work organizations. The experiences of the alternators, substitutes and work organizations were examined with survey questionnaires and semi-structured interviews (2004). The results were compared to those of previous surveys (1996 - 1997). Furthermore, the study investigated the overall extent of the job alternation leave and the characteristics of the alternators by analyzing the statistics and register data provided by the Ministry of Labour.


According to the statistics 90.885 employees took job alternation leave during 1996- 2004. On a monthly level, on average, 0.4% of all the employees were on leave in 2003 (7.700 persons). Correspondingly, approximately 3% of all the unemployed were substitutes (6.400 persons). The proportion of women among the alternators and substitutes was 71%. The age distribution of the alternators and substitutes varied: substitutes (mean age 33 years) were ten years younger compared to the alternators. The personal characteristics of the alternators and substitutes have not changed substantially since the beginning of the alternation leave system, although the mean age of the alternators has risen. Half of the alternators worked in the public municipal sector, a third in private companies and a tenth in the governmental sector. Job alternators worked typically in the health- and social services, public administration, industry, transportation and communications, and education. On average the length of the job alternation leave was 7 months.


The most typical motives for the job alternation leave were: the need to have a break from work, or more specifically, the need to have a break because of work pressures and stress, to have more time for hobbies and relaxation or for family, the need to rest and have time for rehabilitation, and, in general, the need to reconsider one’s values of life. Compared to all the employees job alternators felt busier at work and had difficulties in coping with the demands of the work. All in all, the experiences of the alternators were positive. Most alternators reported an improvement in their psychological and physical well-being, and bettered relations with the members of their family. Their greatest difficulty was the deterioration of their financial situation. After finishing the alternation leave the majority returned to their previous work.


For the substitutes, job alternation offers an opportunity to get into or to stay within the labour markets. Overall, the substitutes’ previous work history was characterised by temporary employment contracts and short unemployment periods. Selection of substitute workers was typically based on previous experience of them; the majority of the substitutes had worked for the same employer before. Substitutes experienced an improvement of their financial situation, and furthermore, an improvement of their subjective well-being and self-esteem, and expected bettered employability. The negative aspects of the work included its temporary nature and short duration.


From the employers’ perspective the positive aspects of the job alternation system included the acquisition of fresh human resources to the organization and the more effective recruitment. The system was also perceived as a means to improve the well-being of the workers, especially that of the older ones. The negative aspects were related to the organization of work and the training of the substitute workers. All in all, however, positive aspects overtook negative aspects.