In the Western world, more and more employees are experiencing signs of burnout. According to an American study from last year, about 75% of them are concerned by this. In this context, it is no wonder that people think about stepping out, having a break. The sabbatical leave is one of the most popular ways to do that. A sabbatical is a time-off period from your work, paid or not, without losing contractual relations to the employer. A recent English study shows that 15% of employers already offer this possibility to their staff.
Reasons for a sabbatical can be manyfold. Besides health reasons there may be family reasons as welI. Some managers want to spend more time with their babies or to take care of their ill parents. I have also met managers who want to devote a certain time to writing a book or to study further. Others may have a non-profit activity they like to follow. I was once working with an American publishing house and their publishing director just went on a sabbatical to have a sailing tour around the world.
Stepping out of the „hamster wheel“ for some time can indeed be inspiring. Often, we get stuck in our professional careers and performance pressure and need to breathe a bit. Mostly, this happens in the mid-forties, when questions of purpose come up: „Is this all? Do I really want to do this work until my retirement? What about my old passions that I forgot about?“. A sabbatical can change our life dramatically, if the time is used productively. It may bring about a difference in attitude to what you are actually doing at work or even a totally new orientation. One of my clients stepped out of a very promising career path in the automobile industry to realize an old dream: having his own restaurant. Even if the times are hard for that at the moment, he would not like to go back into his old world.
Not everyone has the possibility to obtain a sabbatical, check your company HR policy if you have. Not everyone has the courage also to take a risk. If you work in a highly dynamic environment like a start-up, an IT company or a small family business, it is more difficult to step out and people around you may not like that. Career opportunities may also be less if you come back. You will certainly also face less or no revenues during this period of time, can you manage that? Do you have enough financial reserves to sustain? Leaving your employer for some time may be easier in a big corporation in which more options exist for further employment when you come back.
My experience has shown that at least 30% of those leaving for a sabbatical do not want to come back to their same job afterwards. You better consider that possibility as well. It is a bit like an expatriate coming home from his international assignment to a „normal“ job in the head
office - this can also be quite disappointing.
Think well before you apply for a sabbatical in your company (if available), here are 5 questions to answer:
- What exactly is the purpose for me? Why to do it?
- How important is my career really, can I accept a period of stagnation when back in the office?
- Can my work be easily covered by colleagues in the meantime without leaving a big gap?
- Do I have enough financial resources to sustain myself?
- How open am I to unpredictable things happening that could change my life in a completely new direction?
If used correctly, a sabbatical can be a very appropriate tool on your path to self-fulfillment and personal happiness.
Dr. Michael Schroeder