Four Things to Considers Before Taking a Sabbatical

Career Blog

There are a variety of reasons people consider taking an extended break from their chosen profession. For some it’s a question of burnout and sanity maintenance. For others it’s less about running from something and more about running toward an opportunity be it travel, education, or a side project with the potential to become a full time gig. Others still may opt to put a career on pause out of a family obligation or charitable calling. Whatever the catalyst for the jump, considering the following four factors may help you land in the best possible position.

  1. Check Your Company’s Sabbatical Policy: Though rare, some organizations will allow employees to take time away (typically three to 12 months). These policies typically require a set amount of tenure. However those who qualify can take the specified leave and have a guaranteed position upon reentry. If your company doesn’t have a formal sabbatical policy, talk to Human Resources and see what can be negotiated.
  2. Examine Your Rationale: There is a difference between a short-term, high stress trigger or legitimate family/health emergency that must be dealt with and a longer-term, nagging driver that prompts the desire for a break. Make sure you’re not over reacting to a short-term stressor. Sometimes an extended vacation can provide all the buffer you need.
  3. Plan the Time Away: Will you go back to school? Care for a family member? Pursue another career? Start a business? Before you leave, think about how you will explain the gap in work history to a new employer. This may sound brutal, but if you tell a hiring manager that you needed a break to get in shape or because life was too stressful, they may question your ability to perform. Once you can explain the reason aloud, transfer the explanation to paper and see how the gap looks on your resume. The time away will be easier to explain if you achieved something during the break.
  4. Map Your Reentry Point: Are you looking to stay with the same company, in the same industry, in the same profession, or will you try something new upon return? Switching careers actually makes for an easier story to tell. You can use the off time to recharge, hit the books, and volunteer in the desired role.

Life is filled with change and for many it’s hard to predict where they will be year to year. Often the experience you have during a sabbatical will alter your initial plans for reentry to the workforce. You won’t know for sure until you’re in the thick of things. If part of the reason you’re taking a break is to shake off the monotony of your professional obligations then by all means take to the open road afoot and lighthearted. The compass and all it’s headings can be yours.

Of course it’s easier to adjust or even abandon a plan if it exists. Traveling without a map is an adventure, but you will, by definition, get lost. Planning your travel before you go is prudent and helps ensure arrival. I consider it the same as outlining a story before putting pen to paper. Some may find it restricting, but more often than not I’m surprised by the plot twists and character motivations, even as I create them.

In the end setting out is that hard part. So plan or don’t. Either way, like my friend Walt, you may find that you are larger and better than originally thought and hopefully throughout the adventure all will seem beautiful to you. Good journey.

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