More and more we’re hearing about the benefits of taking a sabbatical or an extended break from our careers in an effort to re-energise and recalibrate.
With personal and professional benefits such as reduced stress and increased energy and creativity, acceptance of career sabbaticals among Australian employers is growing, bringing the concept of extended career breaks into the everyday realm of flexible work.
But despite the need for some of us to take a sabbatical at some point in our lives, how many of us actually take one? Many of us know too well the ‘burnt out’ feeling that comes after years of ongoing work stress and a lack of job satisfaction – obvious signs a break is needed – but too often, while we know we need to take time out, we don’t do anything about it or know where to start when it comes to making it happen.
The founder of Perspectives Coaching, Pollyanna Lenkic, says while most of us know we should take a break, it’s putting it into action where a lot of us get stuck.
“Be careful of the ‘shoulds’. Shoulds are really an alert, so be mindful of them. We always know when it’s the right time to take time out for ourselves, but do we then have the courage – the commitment to ourselves – to follow through on it?” she says. “It’s about taking a look at your life and asking, ‘What’s happening for me right now?'”
Putting your sabbatical dreams into action
Having decided it’s time to take a sabbatical, it doesn’t matter whether you resign from your job, seek approval from your employer for an extended period of leave or you’ve been made redundant, according to Lenkic. The way you make it happen will depend on your individual needs and circumstances.
“With regards to how to set up a sabbatical, how long to take off or whether you should have a job to come back to – that all comes down to needs and will be personality-based and, for some people, reality-based. Know that you have options,” says Lenkic.
The first step is to make a plan. Lenkic says planning is critical to ensuring your sabbatical is meaningful and suggests mind-mapping your options and going from there.
“Don’t make an assumption and say, ‘I can’t do that’ because that’s just sabotage. What if you could? Sketch out your dream scenario. It may be completely unrealistic, but don’t worry about that. Now, decide what’s realistic in regards to that. Find out what the company policy is because you might be surprised,” she says. “There are no ‘shoulds’. It could be two months, it could be two years. It’s a really personal thing.”
For those hoping for extended leave from their employer, Lenkic says a growing number of organisations allow employees to take extra time off, unpaid, in addition to their standard annual leave entitlements.
“It depends on the culture of the company you work for. Some have policies in place but the culture doesn’t support it. Again, you need to assess your own situation and the environment you work in,” she says. “Everybody needs to plan. Don’t just think it, ink it. And once you’ve planned it, tell someone about it [to hold you accountable].”
How you should spend your sabbatical
Whether you spend your sabbatical travelling, studying, alone or with family and friends depends on the individual, but however you spend it, make sure you understand what you want from the sabbatical so that it’s worthwhile.
What is the sabbatical in service of? Is it in service of you having a great experience, having a rest or learning? What’s your goal for the sabbatical? What compels you to do this?” says Lenkic. “The biggest mistake you can make is not getting what you want [out of your sabbatical].”
Emphasising again the importance of planning, Total Balance career coach Kate James warns against the tendency among some people to procrastinate and waste their sabbatical.
“Sometimes what happens when someone has a bunch of time off is they get six weeks [into it] and think, ‘I’ve done nothing’. Really plan the sabbatical so you can look back on that time so it was meaningful,” she says.
Once you’ve established what you want to get out of your sabbatical, it’s then time to work out the financial requirements and establish a budget. And of course, as James points out, how you spend your sabbatical will depend heavily on your financial situation.
“For most people [the sabbatical] will be driven by what you can afford. If you’ve got big financial commitments, resigning might not be an option,” she says. “You need to have a plan and to have some kind of buffer zone.
This article first appeared in Women’s Agenda.