If you’re looking for a way for your managers to strengthen their leadership abilities while producing innovative solutions, yet still attract top talent for your company, professional sabbaticals may be the answer. In a survey conducted by Unum, 38% of the 1,227 responders said that sabbaticals or extended unpaid time from work was one of five benefits they looked for when considering a company. Even research at Ivy League schools confirm sabbaticals are a great idea.
Why take a sabbatical?
According to a Harvard Business Review article on sabbaticals, “the majority of leaders surveyed said the time away allowed them the space to generate new ideas for innovating in the organization and helped them gain greater confidence in themselves as leaders”. Leaders have also taken sabbaticals to “take an extended rest period due to professional burnout” according to Investopedia. A professional sabbatical is far from a vacation. A professional sabbatical can bring about reflection, the chance to build new skills, and gain clarity around your life and career.
The idea of a professional sabbatical came to me about 3 years ago. I’d just turned 30 and realized that I’ve been in “Corporate America” since I was 16 years old as an intern in the communications department of a local sewer district in my hometown. Every summer since then, I have either worked full time or went to school – sometimes both. I didn’t want to continue on this path forever and I wanted to do something different.
At the time, I felt uneasy about leaving my career that I’d worked so hard to build. I kept thinking about all the things that could go wrong. To finally overcome this, I developed a plan.
I looked at all of my expenses to understand how much the sabbatical would cost if I took a year off from work. Although I planned to be off for 6 months, I wanted to have a cushion for unexpected expenses.
What my sabbatical looks like
Fast-forward to three years later and I’ve finally on that much needed sabbatical. I decided to spend two months in Paris and as of today I’m more than half way through my trip. For me, my sabbatical involves continuing to develop myself and have the space to figure out what direction I want for my life and career.
So far I’ve grown in the following ways:
Increased Confidence: I jumped in my car and traveled alone for 2,200 from the San Francisco Bay area to the Midwest. After some urging from friends, I saw the Grand Canyon and the Meteor Crater in Arizona. While in Europe, I went on a last-minute trip to Brussels, Belgium and have at least one other solo trip planned before heading back to the US.
Resilience: Learning French in Paris! Although Paris is great, learning French is tough. Attempting to say something in French, then getting the confused “what-are-you-trying-to-say” face, is a bit heartbreaking. Despite this, I’m working on listening, speaking and writing every day.
Connectedness: I met with some friends on my travels through the southwest and spent quality time with my family in the Midwest. In France, I met new people and have been exposed to a whole new world through visiting historical sites and French films.
Learning: Outside of learning French, I’m reading books on building relationships, sales, marketing, leadership, and mental/physical wellbeing. On average, I read or listen to 2-3 books per week! I’m applying what I learned daily through sharing my thoughts with the world via ThrivingAmbition.com and LinkedIn. In addition to this, I’m completing courses at Stanford University towards a certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
Thinking about taking a sabbatical now?
Here are some tips to help you or your team prepare for your professional sabbatical:
#1 Plan – Sometimes things don’t go according our plans. Your sabbatical is no different. Keep a running notepad on your phone or in a notebook to jot down everything you’ll need during your sabbatical. It will take some time to think about everything so keep this list close.
Question: What else do you need to take into account?
#2 Be Proactive at Work – If your company offers paid or unpaid leave, ask for time off as early as possible. Also, work with your leadership team to make sure your responsibilities are covered while you’re out. According to Harvard Business Review, researchers found that “interim leaders continued some responsibilities while making the overall leader-subordinate relationship more collaborative”.
Question: How much time would you take off of work for your professional sabbatical?
#3 Money – You’ll always need more money that you think. Figure out how much money you’ll need to be comfortable during your time off. Next, take that amount and double it. Make sure these numbers factor in cyclical expenses such as new tires, homeowners insurance, doctor bills, etc.
Question: How much will you need to cover all bills, travel, basic needs and the unexpected?
As you can see there are many benefits to taking a professional sabbatical. With proper planning, it can be a professionally rewarding experience for the company and for the employee.
How will you encourage your team to take a sabbatical?