What Is A Sabbatical? And How To Get One? [Explanation & Tips]
Does it sound like a good idea: leave everything behind and take a gap year? Or maybe longer (or shorter)? What is a sabbatical , what are peoples experiences and what steps can you take to take a sabbatical / unpaid leave? Read more…
What is a sabbatical and why should you take one?
Taking a sabbatical, what is that? The concept of the sabbatical has its roots in the Hebrew Bible. A Sabbath (or rest) year was recommended every seven years to give the land a break from agricultural activity.
In a similar way, like the ground, our minds need rest in order to continue to grow and function.
But few of us take such a sabbatical. The reasons for this are probably not shocking. We are often busy, we take on more work than we can handle and above all we fear that we will fall behind if we leave work for a period of time.
However, rest isn’t necessarily a recipe for relapse. In fact, it can mean the exact opposite.
The benefits of a sabbatical
More work doesn’t always equal better results. What does this imply? Just walk away. Indeed, just go away. It is not unknown that this has many benefits.
The idea of a sabbatical has been around for years in academia. If a professor or researcher needs a little more peace of mind to later refocus on a challenging topic with new strengths , he or she can ask to take a leave of absence from his or her daily work, while ensuring the security of his or her retains work upon return.
Not much research has been done into the effect of sabbaticals, but there is indeed research. Research has shown that academics who take a sabbatical report higher levels of satisfaction and less stress than those who don’t.
A sabbatical is an opportunity to refresh your mind and body while continuing to do your most important work at the same time.
It may seem difficult to ask your boss for unpaid leave, but why not? In fact, today, a quarter of Fortune’s top 100 companies actively offer their employees sabbaticals.
A sabbatical can radically hack your productivity.
A well-known example & experience of a self-employed person (and more experiences below)
In his 2009 TED talk, The Power of Time Off, designer Stefan Sagmeister explains how in 2009 he decided to close his New York studio for a full year every seven years:
Sagmeister first got the idea of taking a sabbatical when he started thinking about the typical life course of our lives. He estimates that most people have spent 25 years learning, 40 years working on their careers, and then retired for 15 years.
But, Sagmeister thought, what if we cut off five years of retirement and what if we retire for a while between the years?
When he experimented with this new schedule, the result was very favorable creatively, mentally and professionally. As he explains in his TED talk, Sagmeister created a film that first sabbatical year, discovered new design styles and materials, and immersed himself in new cultures and ideas.
“The work that came out of that year was reflected in the company and society in general.”
Disadvantages of a sabbatical
Throughout this article, some disadvantages – or rather: points for attention – have already been mentioned, but here we list a few more separately:
- Costs: For many people, a sabbatical means that income is lost. The trips, courses and retreats are also not cheap.
- Your employer may react negatively. Later in this article you can read how you can best approach this.
For many people, taking a sabbatical means losing monthly income. In addition, you often spend extra money on trips, courses or retreats.
- It is not unknown to employers that a huge number of women resign after maternity leave. They have a taste of life without a job and value quality time with their family more than returning to work. You could argue that you too could get this feeling after not working for a while. In itself this is not a disadvantage because you consciously choose a life with less work, but it is useful to have things financially organized when this happens.
A step-by-step plan to prepare and make the most of your sabbatical
Deciding to take a work sabbatical and actually taking one are two different things. And while it’s easy to get excited about taking some time off to freshen your mind, the reality of planning a sabbatical can be daunting …
First, you need to investigate whether your current work situation allows it. Does your company have a sabbatical policy or is there a willingness to discuss this?
If you’re a freelancer, can you afford to take that time off and potentially lose clients?
In addition, there are the details of how the sabbatical will work in practice. What are you going to do and not do? And how are you going to support yourself while you’re not working?
Step 1: Decide why you want to take a sabbatical and how it will benefit you
A sabbatical is not unstructured time off, but an opportunity to explore ideas related to your work. So you need a strong reason to take one, especially if you have to sell your boss the idea.
Step 2: Talk to your boss about what you’re up to
Your work situation will likely be the biggest point of friction when it comes to taking a work sabbatical. If you want to return to your job after your sabbatical, you need to talk to your boss and rationalize what you want.
Don’t complain about being burned out, but share the reasons why a sabbatical will benefit both you and your employer. Perhaps it will help your company cut costs, better understand international markets or improve your language skills.
This may seem like a lot to ask, but it is not impossible. In fact, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, 23% of companies in the US are now offering sabbaticals through work, including Adobe, Boston Consulting Group, and even The Cheesecake Factory.
If you are working for yourself this step will be slightly different. You may need to talk to your customers and explain what you want to do and why and how it will affect your availability. Whatever you want to do, make sure to keep everyone affected by your sabbatical well informed.
Step 3: Choose your start and end date and put them on your calendar
Once you start thinking about your sabbatical, you will be able to think of all kinds of reasons why you shouldn’t do it anyway. That is why recording a start and end date becomes so important.
A successful sabbatical depends on good advance planning. The more time you give yourself to plan what you are going to do and how you might work, the more likely you will eventually see real, tangible benefits during your sabbatical.
Step 4: Get your financial situation in order
Whether you plan to spend your sabbatical in an exotic country where you can live cheaply or close to home, saving early is the best way to ensure that financial stress does not interfere with your time of deep thought and exploration.
Alternative to a sabbatical: small sabbaticals of one day or even one hour
Sabbaticals are about rejuvenation and exploring topics you are deeply passionate about. But if you’re reading through this guide and still feel like it’s impossible for you, then there are ways to get the benefits of a sabbatical without risking your job.
Are there any examples and experiences of this?
Sol Orwell, founder of Examine.com, always takes Friday off, while many successful freelancers take a break every other Friday and spend the day in a new environment with new ideas.
You can also just go offline one day a week – and therefore not be reachable. Neil Pasricha, the bestselling author of The Happiness Equation, applies this with great success. According to Neil, these days are his best days when he completes most of his creative and rewarding work.
To make a rough comparison, one day when I write in between meetings, I will produce maybe 500 words a day. On an unreachable offline day, it is not uncommon for me to write 5,000 words. On these days I am ten times more productive.
– Neil Pasricha
Or just take an hour a day off completely. According to Harvard psychologist Shelley Carson, even taking an hour a day can be an easy way to get new ideas.
The book A 4-hour work week – may be the most radical book about sabbaticals, but the idea remains logical: take mini-pensions now instead of saving it all up until you’re 68 years old.
In short: sabbaticals are an enrichment for many people
If you’re feeling stressed, unmotivated, and / or burned out, there’s no point in trying to just push through it. Instead, our best ideas often come when we’re not working.
And a sabbatical – however long or short – is a great way to rest and rethink how you approach your challenges.
On your luck!