Should You Take a Sabbatical? 3 Women Weigh In
How would you love to spend six months backpacking through Asia, experiencing their culture and taking in the sights?
How about spending the six months volunteering in some remote village in Africa, punctuated by some exciting safaris in the wilds of the vast continent?
If that is not your thing, how about spending a year in Central or South America, experiencing the tropical climate, experiencing the culture and learning a new language?
To most of you, I know this sounds like nothing more than a nice dream.
After all, where does one get the time to go away for six months or more when you have a job that needs you to report to work every week?
Unless you are a digital nomad who can keep working from any corner of the world, the idea of taking some extended time off to do any of the activities described above seems impossible.
But is it? As three women who did exactly that show us below, it is very possible.
And if it feels like something you would like to do, it might be time for you to take a sabbatical.
Wait, what exactly is that?
WHAT IS A SABBATICAL?
A sabbatical is a basically an extended break from work that is granted by your employer to give you time to refresh and reenergize to prevent burnout, reflect on your career and decide the direction you want your professional life to take, enhance your academic qualifications, learn a new skill, or even pursue some personal ambitions.
A sabbatical lasts anywhere between six months to a year, though most typically last one year.
This makes a sabbatical very different from a vacation, which is significantly shorter, lasting just a few days or a month at most.
Since the sabbatical is granted by your employer, this means that you will still have your job once you come back from a sabbatical, thus making it different from a career break.
In the past, sabbaticals were a preserve of the world of academia.
It was a common occurrence for tenured professors to be given time away from their teaching duties (usually about a year) so that they could focus on other opportunities.
Recently, however, sabbaticals have started finding their way into the corporate world, and employees and organizations are embracing them enthusiastically.
According to the SHRM’s (Society of Human Resource Management) 2018 Employee Benefits Report, about 15% of American companies on average offer sabbatical leave to their employees. Of the 15%, 10% are unpaid and 5% are paid sabbaticals.
A survey by Opodo also shows that majority of employees would consider taking a sabbatical if it was an option.
Below, let’s take a look at how three women decided to take sabbaticals, and their experiences from this extended time away from work.
MEET MOLLY, ERIN, AND MEGHAN
Molly Borchers, a PR professional in her late 20s was going through some difficult times in her personal life.
This, coupled with 60-hour work weeks, left her feeling unmotivated, drained, and exhausted. She felt like her life was about to come tumbling down around her.
On her wits end, she decided to consult a counselor, who asked her to come up with a list of all the things she felt she wanted in life, without thinking about any of the constraints that are brought about by things such as time, a job, money and so on.
Following the exercise recommended by her counselor, Molly realized that what mattered most to her were experiences rather than things.
She realized that she wanted to truly live, yet in her current life, she wasn’t really living.
She was just going through the motions, stumbling through each day on autopilot.
Following this revelation, she decided to take a six week break from her job. Molly spent her break exploring Hawaii and the Pacific Northwest.
Similar reasons led to 31 year old Doctor of Psychology Erin Gabrielson taking a sabbatical. Just like Molly, Erin was feeling tired and burnt out.
She had just completed her doctorate degree in Clinical Psychology, and she knew that with her current feelings and attitude, she was not in the best state of mind to proceed with her career.
She therefore decided to take a sabbatical to travel through Asia, with a trip to climb to the Mt. Everest base camp included in her itinerary.
Initially, Erin intended to take a break lasting 12 months. However, the 12 months turned into 25 months, during which she lived in Europe for a short while, hiked the US East Coast, hitchhiked through Central America, and road-tripped across the United States.
However, feeling unmotivated and burnt out is not the only reason behind taking a sabbatical.
For Meghan, the decision to take a sabbatical was driven by the fact that she wanted to take some time to achieve some personal goals.
At the time, Meghan was ready to quit her job. Instead of simply finding a new job, she decided to take some time off to hike the Appalachian Trail with her boyfriend, something that they had always dreamt of doing.
She knew that if they did not take that chance, they would probably never get another opportunity to fulfill this goal of theirs.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF TAKING A SABBATICAL?
When you go on a sabbatical in a faraway land, you will definitely come with loads of stories to enthrall your friends with over drinks, and you will have checked off some goals from your bucket list.
But besides that, are there any other benefits that justify taking off a whole year away from work?
The answer to this it a resounding yes.
Sabbaticals have a lot of benefits, which include:
Allows You to Refresh and Reenergize
During a sabbatical, you are no longer in the fast paced environment that characterizes your workplace.
You are under no pressure to achieve this or deliver that. Instead, you can engage in activities you enjoy and get comfortable in your own skin.
This time off will refresh and rejuvenate you, and you will come back with greater motivation once you are ready to get back to work.
For instance, after her 25 month sabbatical, Erin came back with renewed energy and excitement about her work, which is what she had hoped for when taking the sabbatical.
Provides You With an Opportunity to View Things from a New Perspective
A sabbatical can also give you the much-needed chance to view things from a different perspective. For instance, you might decide to take the sabbatical with people close to you like Meghan did.
In such a situation, you might realize that spending time with family and friends is more important to you than career growth or a bigger salary.
After the sabbatical, you might decide to shift to a career that allows you to spend more time with your friends and family, even if it means lower pay or lower chances for career growth.
Of course, this is just one example.
There are several other ways a sabbatical can give you a fresh perspective.
For instance, after spending time exploring a new continent, you might decide that this is what you want to do for the rest of your life, and thereafter ditch your 9 – 5 for a freelancing career that allows you to live the digital nomad lifestyle.
Provides You With Opportunities to Learn New Skills
At the workplace, everything you do is tied to your job description.
Even your ideas and imagination are tied to what you do on a daily basis. You never have time to learn something new or explore new ideas.
During a sabbatical, however, you get to experience new opportunities and new challenges that you wouldn’t have encountered at your workplace.
These challenges and opportunities give you a chance to learn and practice new skills.
For instance, if you spend your sabbatical volunteering in another continent, you might gain a diverse range of skills that might come in handy later in life.
In addition, some people use their sabbaticals as a time to learn new skills that might help you advance your career or open up new career paths.
For instance, if you are a software developer who feels that you would be happier in working in the artificial intelligence industry, you can use your sabbatical to learn new skills that will help you pivot your career to AI.
However, the skills you decide to learn during your sabbatical don’t have to be related to your current career.
If you had some passions that you had put on hold, your sabbatical might be the perfect time to pursue them and learn the associated skills.
For instance, if you have always wanted to learn how to be a filmmaker or a riding instructor, go for it. You never know how you might benefit from these skills in future.
Think About New Careers
Sometimes, we get stuck in our careers even though we are making no progress or do not feel fully satisfied with these careers.
Sure, we know we are not happy, but we don’t take any action to remedy the situation because of the pressures of daily life.
In such cases, taking a sabbatical can give you the break to think about the direction your career is taking and decide whether you want to continue in the same direction or whether you need a change.
During the sabbatical, you also have enough time to explore different options and start taking action to pivot your career path without the daily pressures of your job.
For instance, during her six week break, Molly realized that she wasn’t really happy in the traditional workplace.
Instead of going back to her job when she came back, she decided to start her own consultancy firm.
DOES TAKING A SABBATICAL NEGATIVELY AFFECT YOUR CAREER?
Most career coaches will tell you that having gaps in your resume can impede your chances of getting a job.
The general assumption is that most employers do not like employees who have gaps in their CVs, and job seekers are encouraged to find something to do (such as volunteering or interning) to cover up any gaps in their resumes.
So, in this case, is there a risk that, by taking a sabbatical, you will be creating a gap in your resume that might make it harder for you to get jobs further down the road?
However, those who have actually taken sabbaticals say that these breaks away from work did not affect their chances of finding work.
For Erin, the only downside to her 25 month sabbatical was that she had to relearn some aspects of her work that had changed in the period she was away.
Actually, she believes the sabbatical played a role in helping her get hired by her current employer.
By including her sabbatical in the “Life Experiences” section of her CV, and detailing how her experiences during the sabbatical related to her career, Erin found that many employers responded generally well.
Still, she doesn’t deny the fact that she feels that some employers didn’t hire her because she had taken an extended time off. Generally, a sabbatical will not negatively affect your chances of getting a job.
If you go on a sabbatical and then go back to the same employer, you don’t even have to include it on your resume.
Since you were still employed by the same employer, there doesn’t have to be any gap in your resume.
If you decided to take up a new job or choose a new career path following your sabbaticals, the best thing to do is to talk about your sabbatical during interviews and explain how the experiences and skills gained during your sabbatical relate to the position you are interviewing for.
In the case of a new career, you can even talk about how the sabbatical inspired you to follow a new career path.
BEFORE YOU TAKE A SABBATICAL
You have looked at some of the potential benefits of a sabbatical, and you feel that taking one is the best thing for your career.
However, taking a sabbatical is very different from taking a vacation.
You have to make some preparations before embarking on your break.
Below are some of the things you should take into consideration before taking a sabbatical.
Find Out Whether Your Company Has a Sabbatical Policy
Before you start planning a trip to Asia or even talking to your boss, the first thing you need to find out is whether it is actually possible for you to take a sabbatical.
Like I mentioned earlier, sabbaticals have made their way into the corporate world pretty recently, and therefore, unlike other types of employee time off, there are no laws regarding sabbaticals.
This means that your employer is under no obligation to offer employees sabbatical leave.
Some companies have sabbatical leave as part of their employee perks and others do not, and that’s just how it is.
Therefore, before doing anything else, you need to find out if your company has a sabbatical policy.
If your company has a website or intranet page spelling out what employees are entitled to, you can head there to check whether employees are entitled to sabbatical leave.
Alternatively, you can check your employee handbook for this information. If the information is not available there, you can speak with someone from the HR department to find out whether the company offers sabbatical leave.
When trying to gather this information, keep in mind that being granted sabbatical leave is not your right.
Some companies will not have this as part of their benefits policy, and there’s not much you can do about it. If your company does not have a sabbatical policy, you have three options, the way I see it.
If you work for a small company, it might be possible for you to negotiate for a sabbatical leave.
If you work for a bigger organization, or if you are unable to negotiate for a sabbatical, you might consider quitting your job if you feel the sabbatical is something that you really need. If you are not ready to quit your job, you might just have to give up on the idea of a sabbatical.
If your company has a sabbatical policy, or if you have managed to negotiate for sabbatical leave, your next step is to…
Figure Out What You Want to Do During Your Sabbatical
A sabbatical is longer than a vacation. Depending on your company, you might be granted 3 months, six months, or even a whole year.
Have you thought of how you are going to spend all this time?
How you choose to spend your sabbatical should be influenced by the reason why you are taking a sabbatical in the first place.
Some things you might do during your sabbatical include traveling, volunteering, pursuing a hobby or artistic endeavor, learning a new skill, starting a new business venture, ticking an item off your bucket list, and so on.
Think About Your Finances
Taking a sabbatical can be an expensive affair. If you plan on traveling to a different country or continent, you will need money to get you there and to cater for your cost of living while you are there.
You will also need money for the activities you intend to undertake during the sabbatical.
While you are away, you will still need to make sure that all your monthly bills back at home are taken care of.
To make matters worse, unless your company is one of the few that offers paid sabbaticals, you won’t be making any money throughout this period.
Therefore, you need to make sure that you have enough money to take care of everything.
A good approach is to start saving money for the sabbatical, long before you are ready to take the break.
This is what Molly, Erin and Meghan all did.
Talk to Your Employer
If you have no plans of coming back to the same job after your sabbatical, you can just skip this step and instead follow the procedures for quitting your job.
If you want to come back to your job, however, you need to talk to your employer to ask them to grant you a sabbatical leave.
If your employer has a sabbatical policy, you should request for sabbatical leave according to the procedures stipulated in the policy.
If your employer does not have a policy, but you have established that it is possible to be granted sabbatical leave, you will need to talk to your boss and let them know of your desire to take sabbatical leave.
Start the conversation early, and make sure to explain to your boss the benefits that both you and the organization will gain from your sabbatical.
You should also make it clear that you intend to return to the organization after the sabbatical.
In some situations, your employer will make a promise for re-employment once you are back, but you might have to take a different positions from the one you hold now.
Keep in Touch
One of the biggest mistakes most people make after taking a sabbatical is going silent until they are just about to come back.
Don’t do that. Instead, keep in touch with your boss and your co-workers, and from time to time, offer to work on small projects that do not need urgent attention.
The point here is to make sure that you are not forgotten and to keep yourself abreast of the important things happening within the company.
Doing this will make it easier for you to make a smooth re-entry after your sabbatical.
Keep Your Skills Updated
Just because you are on sabbatical doesn’t mean you should avoid everything that has to do with work.
If you intend to have an easy time once you come back, you should not allow yourself to get rusty during your sabbatical.
Find opportunities to practice and even enhance your skills and expand your knowledge.
Keep your licences and memberships in professional bodies up-to-date, and keep an eye on what is happening within your industry.
You don’t want to come back and find that you have no idea about the changes your field has undergone while you were away.
If you need to take some extended time away from work to refresh and reenergize, pursue personal goals, learn new skills, or gain a fresh perspective, a sabbatical is the perfect way to do that without risking your job.
Like Molly, Erin, and Meghan have shown us, it can have massive benefits on your career.
Before embarking on a sabbatical, however, it is important to make sure that your company offers sabbatical leave, figure out how you intend to spend the time, and make sure that your finances are in order.
From there, you can just let your employer know about your desire to take an extended break and then embark on your sabbatical.
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