The Case for Work Sabbaticals: Time to Think

Jul 1, 2021

by Ed Hunter and Deanna Parkton

Americans are feeling burnout. 

It can feel like there is never enough time to give attention to all the things that we care about. Juggling between work, family, friends, hobbies and volunteer roles, millions of us get caught short when it comes to our own health and wellness.  Our roles don’t suffer, but we do.  

While work can be a driving force of life stress, 70% of U.S. adults reported that their career provided them with some meaning. At the same time, about the same percentage of people (77%) reported that they have experienced burnout at their current job.  So while work gives us meaning, it can also be a detriment to our life happiness and well being.  In fact, 42% of respondents said that they have left a job specifically because they were burnt out.

While taking vacation time is important, the feeling of being recharged and refreshed after vacation can be short-lived, and a return to a daunting list of emails and pressures can make it seem like ‘no good vacation goes unpunished!’  Additionally, statistics show that people are not fully resting during their time off, with 85% of employees reported joining a meeting on a day off.  

Burnout is a long term problem and the short-term solution of vacation might not always cut it.  Our batteries, it seems, rarely get fully charged on vacation.  

So what can a burned-out person do? 

An interesting but little discussed alternative is the idea of the work sabbatical. While historically found in academia, the benefit of a sabbatical is a way for an employee to take a leave of absence to recharge, travel or do some independent studying. Sabbaticals are an uncommonly discussed but possible perk with 23% of all U.S. companies and 17% of small-to-midsize businesses offering sabbaticals. In fact, a quarter of Fortune 500 companies offer this benefit! 

The difference between vacation and a sabbatical is that sabbaticals are often longer, and used for personal or professional development. With vacation tending to be a whirlwind of fun, time with family and friends and travel, employees may not come back to work feeling as refreshed as they would have liked to. 

The history of the sabbatical is rooted in academia, in which a professor or researcher would be granted a leave of absence to either study at another institution or do some independent research. Over the years, it has expanded to corporate America and for good reason. 

A work sabbatical is a time to think; a chance to separate from the day-to-day of the office and possibly focus on expanding one’s skill set. Some professionals may take time to take some courses, or study for a certificate or test, or even focus on hobbies that will enrich them personally.

Employers report sabbaticals as a way to increase employee retention and inspire creativity, it can also build morale because it’s an opportunity for personal and professional growth.  Clif Bar reported less than 3% turnover due to offering sabbaticals to 7-year employees.

Very often, individuals who tend to get burnt out are the ones who care a lot about their jobs. Burnout can occur when there are not enough boundaries between one’s work and their emotional or mental state. Taking a sabbatical can be the perfect solution for an employee who feels a need to leave their job for mental health purposes. This way, they can recharge and return to their job with a clearer and more balanced mindset, which benefits themselves and their employer. The opposite solution: a good employee leaving a job and never returning certainly causes the employer to lose more in the long run. Rather than lose someone permanently, allowing them to take a short term leave of absence is a great way to rejuvenate and refresh an employee. 

Studies have found that academics who have taken sabbaticals report better levels of work satisfaction and lower levels of stress. There are also benefits to employees outside of stress relief. A study on sabbaticals found that leaders who took a leave of absence returned feeling more confident in their roles and with a better vision for their team. They also were able to build skills related to their personal and professional development. 

The leader’s leave of absence also allowed others to step up into an interim leadership role, and the study found that those individuals were then more effective when their boss returned. The benefits for the team at large, allowing others to move into opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t have existed before is certainly noteworthy. 

If you are intrigued about the idea of a sabbatical, explore whether the benefit exists at your company. Bring these ideas and the positive impacts of sabbaticals to your leadership team. A leave of absence can contribute to both yourself and your company’s end goals, surely a win-win for all! 

Even if a traditional sabbatical is not possible at your workplace, consider a min-sabbatical:  one or two weeks dedicated (and planned) to learn something new, get exposed to another culture (or culture in general) and really step away from work… and email.  

Burnout is a serious long-term threat to your mental and physical health. And making time to rest, regenerate and renew is not a luxury.  It is a human NEED.  It is shared by all of us.  

And you deserve it.

 

Deanna Parkton is a writer, career coach and educator with a passion for professional development and work wellness and happiness. With a focus on self-reflection, she works with individuals in their quest to reach their career goals as well as satisfaction in work-life balance. You can find more of her writing at workinglivingwell.com and she can be reached at workinglivingwell@gmail.com.

Ed Hunter is a Professional Career and Executive Coach and principal of Life in Progress Coaching. He is certified by the international Coaching Federation as a Professional Certified Coach.. He is also a Certified Executive and Leadership Development Coach.  Ed has coached over a thousand professionals to create authentic careers and balanced work lives, and has a special interest in career development for adults with Autism. To connect with Ed, schedule a free consultation here.

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