Fun fact: did you know that the term ’sabbatical’ is actually derived from the biblical ’sabbath’—a period of rest and rejuvenation? Of course you did, you smart cookie. Nowadays, it simply refers to a voluntary arrangement where an employee takes an extended period of leave (either paid or unpaid) from their job—a career break, if you will.
While the idea of sitting around in your boxers watching daytime TV for a solid 3 months might sound like a dream come true to any hard-pressed employee, the devil, as always, is in the details. If you’re considering taking a sabbatical, you’ll need to fully understand the arrangement and its implications for your career.
Luckily, we’re here to help. Check out these 4 pros and 4 cons of taking a sabbatical before you decide whether or not to take the plunge:
1. Improve Relationships
If you find that your job tends to keep you separated from friends, family and loved ones, then a sabbatical can be the perfect opportunity to reconnect and rekindle relationships. You’ll be able to get back to enjoying the simple things like collecting your kids from school, or having an impromptu mid-week night out without worrying about getting up for work in the morning.
However, it’s worth remembering that while you’re operating from a blank schedule, most of your friends and family will still be going to work or school. Be prepared to fill your day with solo activities for those long hours when no one else is around.
2. Learn and Develop New Skills
Getting away from the daily grind will give you time to dust off the cobwebs in your brain and explore your other talents and ideas. You could use the break to learn a new language, develop a new skill or pursue some form of training or new qualification. It can be relevant to your career or completely unrelated—the choice is yours!
If you go for the latter option, then you’re limited only by your imagination. You could write a book, climb Mount Everest or travel around the world. Alternatively, you could try volunteering. Helping others offers a reward that money can’t buy, and you never know what doors it might open for you.
3. Relax and Recharge
If you put in long hours at the office and struggle to maintain a decent work-life balance (join the club), then a well-timed career break might be just what you need to avoid becoming an unhealthy mess. We all have a limited capacity for performance—years of hard work and suboptimal rest are just not good for you.
Your time away will allow you to relax, unwind and decompress so you can return to the workforce with renewed energy and vigour. If burnout has traditionally been a problem for you, you can take the time during your break to consider how you might improve your routine and efficiency, so you can avoid it in future.
4. Help Out Your Employer
Believe it or not, taking a sabbatical can actually benefit your employer too. Sometimes, they’ll just be glad to see the back of you for a while. OK, just kidding—there are actually legitimate reasons for this. For example, taking a career break can allow your employer to weather a period of low turnover, and it helps improve employer/employee relations overall.
Also, it’s the ultimate test of your employer’s succession planning. With you out of the picture for a while, they can see how well the rest of the team functions in your absence and take steps to ensure the business can cope should an employee leave for good. If your employer is initially reluctant to agree to your sabbatical, try pitching them these ideas to see if it helps your case.
5. It Might Be Costly
Unless you’re lucky enough to work with a company that offers paid extended career breaks, you’ll probably find yourself without an income should you choose to take a sabbatical. You will need to agree with your employer in advance what employment benefits (if any) will continue during your absence, and be prepared to have enough living expenses saved to cover your period of leave.
Also, bear in mind that unless specified by written agreement, the contract of employment is normally regarded as suspended or terminated in cases of extended unpaid leave. Take the time to fully understand the terms and conditions of your sabbatical, and make sure you have a job to come back to.
6. It Could Set Your Career Back
When you take time out from your career, any progress and momentum you’ve gained up to that point grinds to a halt. If you’ve been working towards a promotion or building a reputation with clients, you might find that the break ends up setting you back a few steps.
You’ve heard the term "out of sight, out of mind," right? Well, that’s what you’re up against. With you out of the picture, your employer will need to find another go-to employee they can rely on to handle your work. If you’re a freelancer, your clients will move on to other service providers—they need continuity in their own businesses, too. If you don’t think you can recover from setbacks like this, then you might want to reconsider your sabbatical.
7. Your Employer May React Negatively
If your company doesn’t have a set policy for sabbaticals, then approaching your boss about the possibility of taking leave can be a prickly subject. You’ll never know if you don’t try, and in most cases the worst you’ll get is "sorry, but I just can’t afford to lose you right now." However, they might take it completely the wrong way and see it as disinterest in the job and/or company.
You’ll need to gauge this one for yourself, as all employers are different and will have different attitudes towards their employees taking career breaks. Either way, make sure you thrash out the conditions of the sabbatical, both in terms of what happens during your absence and if/when you come back.
8. It Might Be Difficult to Come Back
One of the biggest problems with taking a sabbatical is the period of readjustment after you return to work. You’ll need to modify your whole daily routine, figure out what’s changed in your work environment, and get used to wearing pants during the day again.
If you’re going back to the same job and the break hasn’t been too long, you might settle back in pretty quickly. But it’s entirely possible that you’ll have dropped a few notches in the pecking order, or you’ll struggle to get to grips with new procedures and team changes. For freelancers, the challenge is even greater—you’ll have to grind for at least a few weeks to build up a roster of clients again, so be prepared for that.
See Also: 4 Ways to Break the Monotony of Your Job
A sabbatical can definitely be a good thing for both you and your employer, provided you get the proposal right. Have an open and honest discussion when you approach your boss with the idea, and make sure you outline the advantages to all parties involved. You could be sunning your butt cheeks on the other side of the world before you know it!
Have you ever taken an extended career break? How did it work out for you? Let us know in the comments below: