Careers

Considerations Around Taking a Sabbatical at Work

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While employee engagement represents a major focus for HR managers, only 32 percent of employees in the United States are actively engaged at work. What’s even more worrisome is that one in five high performing and engaged employees is also at risk of burnout, as an article in the Harvard Business Review points out. To address burnout and retain high-performing talent, some employers have started offering a sabbatical as an employee perk. A sabbatical is an opportunity to take several weeks or months off to pursue personal and professional experiences with the goal of returning to the employer recharged and refocused. Although traditionally associated with academic institutions, sabbaticals are now offered by 23 percent of US companies. In addition to focusing on restoring your physical and mental health, a sabbatical may be appropriate if you are interested in gaining new skills or knowledge, volunteering, spending more time with family, traveling, or a combination of the above.

Whatever the reasons for taking a sabbatical at work, you may want to consider the following points before committing to the decision.


Support System

Despite the proven benefits of sabbaticals, taking one is a major life decision and as soon as you start thinking about it, you will start listing reasons not to do it. It is, therefore, vital to surround yourself with people -- family, friends and colleagues -- who understand the importance of your decision and can support you on the journey. I also encourage you to connect with others who’ve taken a sabbatical so you can gain insights and hear recommendations. In fact, that may be your first step as you gather information before making the decision.

Career Implications

When the thought of a sabbatical enters your mind, check to see if your employer offers the option and under what circumstances. How many weeks or months do you have? Will the leave be paid or unpaid? Do you have the option to work remotely on a part-time basis at reduced pay? If you love your job and your employer values your contributions, you may find an arrangement that benefits both of you. If you choose to take a sabbatical by also leaving your current employer, you may want to think about the specific experiences you are seeking. Explaining resume gaps can be a real challenge for job seekers, and taking a sabbatical seems just like the thing to put you in such a predicament.

The truth is that some employers are not going to be thrilled with the fact that you took time off, and that’s fine. You don’t want to be with an employer who doesn’t value your commitment to growth, family, community service or new experiences, all of which ultimately make you a more productive employee. However, you also want to make sure you are able to articulate the value and relevance of the experience to any future employers. Be proactive and consider what relevant skills and experiences you can acquire while on sabbatical. Being intentional and strategic about your sabbatical can help you recharge and enhance your professional portfolio. Keep in mind that having intentional goals doesn’t mean you have to follow a rigid structure; depending on what you encounter on your sabbatical, you have the option to adjust or change your goals. Being open to unexpected opportunities is always a good strategy.

To ensure you understand the value of your sabbatical and are able to articulate it, consider keeping a journal throughout your experience. Your options include the traditional notebook and pen, a journal app on your phone, a social media account or a blog. The last two can help you keep track of, reflect on and share your experiences. Sharing your journey of new learning, recharging and growth on social media or through a blog can help you keep in touch with family, friends and coworkers and it can help you cultivate new relationships.

Finances

A sabbatical may just be what you need to reduce stress and regain focus in your career, but you don’t want to dive into the option without having thought about your finances. What are the expenses -- for example, student loan debt -- that you will need to continue covering? Have a plan in place to help pay your bills on time when you are on your sabbatical, especially if you are outside of the country. What expenses will you have to cover basic needs during your sabbatical? Are you taking a sabbatical by yourself or with your family? Clarifying the above can help you determine how early you should start saving and how much you need to save, especially if you don’t have an employer that offers a paid sabbatical. You may also want to brainstorm ideas of earning money while on your sabbatical, through freelancing, for example.

Housing 

What is your current living arrangement and do you want to keep it? If you are renting your space, you may need to consider subletting. If you own your place, you may need to arrange for a friend or a family member to check in on it or you may hire a house-sitter. Renting out your place is also an option, and it allows you to earn an income. When on your sabbatical, are you staying with family, friends, or friends of friends? As excited as you are about the opportunity to expand your experiences and learning, any transition comes with stress and you don’t want worries about housing to add to that stress. At minimum, you may want to make arrangements for the initial days or weeks of your time off. You may think that you know no one where you are going, but in an increasingly global and online world, you can find a community anywhere you want to go. Couchsurfing, Airbnb and VRBO are well-known and preferred options.

Belongings And Pets

Unless you happen to be a minimalist, you probably have quite a few accumulated items, and you will need to make arrangements for the belongings not joining you on your sabbatical. You can donate, store or sell your items. And if you have any, don’t forget your pets! Although not impossible, it may be challenging to bring them with you if you have chosen traveling or volunteering overseas. Options to consider include leaving them with family or friends, finding a house-sitter who will also care for them, or setting them up with an established pet boarding service (keep in mind that the latter two options will prompt additional costs).

Insurance 

If you don’t have the option to keep the health insurance you currently have, you want to make arrangements so that you don’t find yourself sick and stuck in another country with no idea what to do. Travel insurance is also a good idea if you’re leaving the country. Check out SOS International, the International Medical Group and/or World Nomads as potential providers.

As you consider all of the above, remember that you can never know for certain what value a sabbatical could bring, so be open, curious and intentional!