Of the many perks that progressive companies offer these days, one of my favorites is a sabbatical. Hundreds of organizations offer paid and unpaid leaves for employees who want to pursue a passion, focus on their health, spend time with family, renew from job stress, or develop a new skill. You may think that asking for an extended break from your job is career-limiting and potentially too risky for job security. I certainly felt that way when I decided to take six months off from my job after the birth of my son, Jason. At the time, that decision seemed monumental and, with major changes taking place at my company at the time, I did worry that there might not be a job for me when I returned. But, with no regrets, I took my time off and did it again a few years later, at a different organization, when my daughter was born.
The time away was wonderful for me. Of course, I was absorbed in the joys and challenges of caring for an infant – and I had time in the quiet moments to think about the life I wanted to create for myself, my hopes for my children, what was really important to me, and what I might want to do differently once I was back at work.
The act of stepping away creates the space we need to be Thoughtful, mindful, and more intentional about our life, our work, and our future. And, with that, we can come back with more clarity, focus, purpose, and excitement. Designer Stefan Sagmeister in a 2009 TEDTalk shared how the yearlong sabbatical he takes every seven years helps him to inject new life into his creativity and find inspiration in his experiences during his time off.
If you are fortunate enough to work for an organization that offers sabbaticals, learn about the policy and commit to taking one! If they don’t offer sabbaticals where you work, you can still start the conversation and negotiate one for yourself. And, who knows?, maybe your request will be the spark that gets your organization moving on adding this as a benefit. If the idea of a sabbatical sounds attractive to you, consider these questions:
- Why does a sabbatical sound right for you? Again, there are many reasons why people take sabbaticals – some are driven by the desire to pursue a dream or goal, others are looking to change their current direction, and still others just need a break. Being clear about the purpose of your sabbatical and the purpose of your time away is essential.
- What is the thing you have been dreaming about? A sabbatical gives you the opportunity to go after the dream that you have been putting off or that you have convinced yourself could never happen.
- What support do you need? At work and at home, you will need the help of others to come up with a plan and put it into motion. Whether it’s your manager, your co-workers, your significant other, neighbors, friends, or someone in HR, determining who you need to talk to and what your request will be are important steps.
- What’s in it for you (and for others)? Imagining all of the benefits and value that will come from your sabbatical – both for you and your company – helps to keep you excited and focused, and clear about why this is important. Thinking even further about how your time away will benefit those you love, your team at work, your organization, and make you an even stronger performer at work will help you to frame your conversations and make the case (if you need to) for giving your sabbatical the go-ahead.
- How are you perceived at work? If you are seen as a high performer and someone that the organization doesn’t want to lose, then your ability to take an extended leave and come back to your job are strong. On the other hand, maybe your sabbatical is the first step to pursuing a new or different career path.
Time off from work is a big part of caring for yourself. For many of us, stepping away from the meetings, phone calls, and email seems impossible. Yet, taking a break – whether it’s a six-month leave, a three-month sabbatical, or a three-week vacation – helps you to realize that the work really can go on without you and nothing will fall apart. It also gives you the opportunity to rethink your current approaches, make time for the pursuits you love, and commit to more Thoughtful and intentional actions once you return. And that can make you a better, more effective, and happier leader.
What’s in it for you to take a long break?
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Everyone’s personal situation is different and a strong support system is needed to be able to take a sabbatical. I was personally lucky enough to take one in between companies and it allowed me to clear out all the personal cruft I had accumulated over the last decade. This personal feeling of “everything has a place and everything in its place” allowed me to enter the new company with the energy and clear mind that leads to lots if idea generation.
I hope everyone is lucky enough to work a job, and live a life, that allows for time off! And when you can, to reflect on the blessings that led you there!
Thank you, Abe. A strong support system is definitely key to taking a sabbatical. And your commitment to creating clarity and space during your sabbatical between jobs sounds like it paid off well for you! Taking time for reflection certainly prepares you for successful re-entry after your time off. Thanks again for your comments!