Over time, maintaining a high level of professionalism can result in mental fatigue, and a drop in creativity and motivation – more commonly known as burnout. A sabbatical can offer the time you need to re-energize. Progressive companies know this and are paying heed. Due to unprecedented competition for talent, companies are embracing sabbatical policies to attract and keep employees. The result is high employee satisfaction, intellectual growth and especially, retention.
I recently had the opportunity to take a sabbatical and it was one of the best decisions of my life. It can be for you, too. Here are some suggestions on how to take a sabbatical that will impact your life and career for the better.
‘Why’ Means Everything
Ideally, this should be a milestone event in your life or the lives of others. Decide why you want to do it, and then weigh the opportunities and/or consequences. Allow your plan to come together like you would the ingredients of your favorite dish. Make this special time count. That’s what I did.
My company offers a paid sabbatical after seven years of employment. I wanted a compelling reason before I took one, and at 10 years that reason came. My husband and I had the opportunity to volunteer as tour guides at a local nature preserve for a group of delegates visiting Atlanta from 30 countries. We studied the tour routes and animal behavior, created our own scripts, and since some delegates were from Japan, we also had a crash course in Japanese. I found that I love the language and culture. I learned to tie a kimono and simple conversation in Japanese. One tour site, the Chattahoochee Nature Center, is a rehabilitation center for injured birds. I wasn’t a wildlife girl by any stretch of the imagination, but now I enjoy birds. I know the call of a Barred Owl and the song of the Eastern Towhee, and I appreciate the endearing qualities of the Black Vulture. The experience changed my life.
How Will You Spend Your Time?
Will you spend your sabbatical improving your health, continuing your education or learning a new skill? Perhaps you will take leave to care for an elderly family member, write a book, raise children, visit an indigenous population or join a humanitarian mission. If adventure is more up your alley, you could backpack in Bolivia, cycle the South of France, get a pilot’s license or climb Mt. Everest. The choice is yours.
What Actions Do You Need to Take?
First, find out if your company has a sabbatical policy. Express your desire to your manager, along with your reasons for wanting to take one. Being transparent will help to allay any fear associated with taking a sabbatical from work, and you may be surprised by the support you receive in return. A leave may or may not be paid time off, so talk with someone in the employee benefits department. Second, make sure you give yourself and your employer plenty of time. I had six months to talk with my boss and formulate a plan. We both needed that time.
Create a No-Panic Plan of Action
Talk with your superior so that the two of you can agree on a contingency plan. Offer suggestions to cover your duties while you’re gone. Maybe a recruiter could assist in finding an ideal person to temporarily manage your job, or someone in the office may be able to fill in. Offering solutions before asking for something goes a long way.
Employers don’t like losing good talent, even temporarily, but given the benefits to the employee, many companies view sabbaticals as investments in the future. The experience will enrich your life, expand your mind, and enhance your company and co-workers. Make it count, lay solid groundwork before you go – and most of all, have the time of your life!