A sabbatical may be just the thing to help you recharge and
Are you feeling greater stress and finding that you are sick more
often? Do you long for a week, or even a weekend, where work does
not interfere with your life? Has the stress of disgruntled
co-workers dampened your outlook?
You are not alone.
The financial crisis or Great Recession, as it is often called, has
taken its toll on all of usfrom loss of jobs, to loss of savings
and retirement funds, to loss of trust in our institutions. Were
burned out, stressed out, and highly skeptical of our employers.
It is no surprise that 63 percent of Americans are working more
than 40 hours per week, as revealed by a recent Expedia.com survey.
They also are leaving unused $21 billion worth of vacation time
annually. More than 34 percent of Americans dont take all of the
vacation allotted to them compared with 24 percent of Germans and
22 percent of the French.
The signs of stress and burnout are not hard to identify: lack of
sleep, overeating, irritability, hopelessness, depression, illness,
increased cynicism, decreased productivity, more mistakes, anger
and confusion, and self-doubt. Our personal creativity and ability
to deal with ambiguity falters. Our work stress carries over to our
personal life and often our children react, albeit unconsciously,
and our relationships suffer.
So how do you stay engaged at work and create an environment that
fosters your creativity while keeping your life in balance? One
increasingly accepted answer is to give yourself the "gift of time"
by taking a sabbatical, or what some call a "reboot break," from
work for anywhere from one month to three monthsor maybe even a
The emergence of sabbaticals
The most recent Fortune 100 Best Places to Work list includes 21
companies that offer sabbaticals. Unlike academic sabbaticals, they
dont have to involve research, teaching plans, or even a
work-related plan. Workplace sabbaticals can be motivated by the
need to refresh and renew, to learn new skills, to travel, to work
in political campaigns, to volunteer, or to reconnect with family
Of the people interviewed for research on sabbaticals, all cited
benefits such as being healthier, more creative, more resilient,
more balanced in their lives, more connected to themselves and
others, more fun to be around, and smarter about their career and
job priorities. All found ways to integrate what they did on their
time off into their day-to-day livessomething called living the
The time you take for yourself will help you to reflect on whats
important in your life; have time and space to heal physically,
emotionally, and spiritually; and energize you to learn something
new. It is life changing.
Give yourself permission
The first step is getting over the common fears of "I cant afford
it," "I will become irrelevant to my company," or "I cant step out
of the career track." The reality is that many Type A peoplefrom
corporate executives and entrepreneurs to medical and legal
professionalsdo take time off and come back the better for it and
ready to handle new challenges. My father had an adage, "You have
to nourish yourself to nourish
others." It is a good principle to follow.
There are basically three types of sabbaticals:
- the workplace sabbatical, where you come back to the same
- the between gigs sabbatical, where you leave your organization
to explore a new job or career
- the unexpected sabbatical, where you are out of a job because
of economic or downsizing reasons.
In interviews with more than 300 people who have taken time off
from work, the single most important factor mentioned was having a
plan. Components include visualizing what you want to do on your
break, how much time you want to take off, where you want to
travel, who you need to communicate with, and, most importantly,
how you will fund it.
Funding your freedom
What if your organization doesnt have a sabbatical program? Funding
is one of the biggest hurdles, but there are a number of ways you
can afford a sabbatical.
Of course, the first people to talk to are your boss and the human
resources department. Even if there is no formal sabbatical
program, by creating a business case for why taking time off will
help you as well as the organization, you may be able to customize
a program for yourself, keep benefits and 401k contributions
flowing, and know that you will have your position responsibilities
covered while you are on break.
There are four main ways to fund your freedom:
There are research grants, teaching and lecturing opportunities,
travel companion gigs, and other ways to make money on your reboot
When I took my first sabbatical, I was mid-career and wanted to
leave the academic world for the corporate world. My husband and I
planned for a year before we took off a year to explore China,
India, and Japan. We rented our house in Washington, D.C., for the
year to a French attach, sold one of our cars, and got the U.S.
Information Agency to fund some of the travel expenses in exchange
for an opportunity to lecture and meet executives, public policy
experts, and academics in Asia.
It was a fabulous experience capped by Dun and Bradstreet holding
an executive position for me (unknown to me while we were
traveling) because they thought if I had the guts to take off a
year mid-career, I was the kind of innovator and risk taker they
wanted for a new division.
Here are the tools that seem to work for people who are planning
time off from work.
- A sabbatical fund: Start setting aside money now to be used for
your time off of work and add to it on a regular basis.
- Visualization: Take the time to walk, think, and write down
what you would like to do if you had the time to do it.
- Journaling: Keep track of your thoughts daily as you go through
- Planning and budgeting: Outline what you need to do to make the
sabbatical happen and how youll fund your freedom.
- Goal setting: Use a mechanism to lay out your goals in all
areas of your life, not just your career, so that your life becomes
more balancedone of the most important long-term effects of taking
- Business plan: Use this for talking with your employer about
why you need to take a sabbatical and the benefits; write out your
announcement to your boss and colleagues in advance.
To get started, try a small-risks exercise by listing five new
things you have never done and do them in the next month. It might
be five new types of food to eat or cook, five new ways to walk or
drive to work, or five new types of music to listen to. You can
start small and build upon your risk-taking to take bigger leaps.
These are just a few examples of how you can take charge of your
life and give yourself the gift of time. Just do itfor yourself,
your family, your friends, and your employer.