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The Gap Year Blog

Sabbatical – your opportunity to take a career break

12 Jun 2019 14:05 PM

Photo Credits: Pixabay | furry_portraits

Edited with Permission by Frontier

Satisfy your inner wanderlust and break out your daily routine. Sabbaticals, also known as adult gap years, enjoy growing popularity amongst professionals. No wonder, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that allows working people to go on an extended period away from work without losing employment. A sabbatical does not just have to be a yearlong vacation – even though without any doubt that is great as well – it can be an active pursuit of purpose that enriches your life.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an opportunity to get away from your work (for a lot longer than your usual holiday and up to a year) without losing your job. It has to be organised and agreed upon by you and your employer. The break is usually used to explore new areas of your life both personally and professionally.

The word ‘sabbatical’ comes from ‘sabbath’ or the Greek ‘sabatikos’, which means ‘of the Sabbath’. It has biblical origin and refers to the day of rest that happens every seventh day. Back in time academics got every seventh year off to further their understanding of the world – to do research, write a book and search for new knowledge. 

Why do people take a sabbatical?

Nowadays a lot of people do not use their sabbatical to keep working but go and travel the world or volunteer. Contributing to the greater good, they seek to get away from work in the quest of self-fulfilment. Or people use it to realise a personal project that requires a lot of time and dedication like building their own house, creating their own art gallery, learning diving or indulge in some other kind of new activity.

Of course, the purpose of such a long break can also be work-related. Some people use it to do research or to aim for a higher qualification in order to get a promotion or maybe find a new job or field of interest.

Sabbaticals are mostly unpaid, even though there are exceptions. Larger corporations or big public sector employers offer sabbatical models where people work on a reduced income for a limited period of time to save money on a separate bank account. That money is then used for monthly pay checks throughout their sabbatical. That is very convenient as it can be very hard to financially plan a whole year ahead depending on how you plan to spend your free time.

As there are no laws specifically dealing with career breaks, employers do not have to offer sabbaticals. Most employers even do not have a clear policy regarding sabbaticals but most of them are aware of it because such a career break can bring a lot of benefits for both, the business and the employee.

Benefits of a sabbatical

Having a longer time off work with the certainty of being able to return to that work – hence not to lose the job – increases the retention of employees. I mean, who doesn’t like the idea of the possibility to take a year off work when starting a job or new career? Businesses’ that provide the possibility of a sabbatical are very appealing for employees. A sabbatical can also be offered by an employer as a reward for good work, to motivate employees or to bring new skills.

You should have worked a few years in the company before you request to take a sabbatical. Usually your pension and salary will be frozen during that time. A year is long, so even though your company may guarantee to hold your position open for you, it can be that will have to fill it and offer you a similar job at the same level when you return. Many companies also will not let you do paid work during your sabbatical and they can have other restrictions or limitations for your leave and return. If your company has a sabbatical guideline, you can look these things up or ask your HR about it.

When you company has never offered sabbaticals before, it could still be worth ask for or one. Drop the idea in a conversation and see how your boss reacts to test the waters. When you formally request your sabbatical, it is vital that you emphasize on the benefits this career break will bring to your company like becoming fluent in a certain language, learning leadership skills or simply destressing so you can come back with strengthened power.

Thinks to consider before you start to take a sabbatical

It is always good if you can be flexible about your time and ideas, so your employer and you can work out a suitable framework for both of you. Here are a few questions you should consider before you go into that conversation:

  • What gap will you leave when you take your sabbatical? Do you have to find a suitable work replacement for you for that time?
  • What if you are made redundant or offered a different position after you return?
  • Are you allowed to do any other paid work while being away?
  • Will your employer’s rights be affected?
  • When will you leave and when will you return? Can you return earlier or extend your time off?
  • • How will your work and the time you will come back to work look like? Will you have an induction or start full-time right away?
  • How do you finance your sabbatical?
  • Does your insurance cover such a career break?

A sabbatical’s effect on your life

Make sure that you fully understand the conditions agreed on before you leave and that everything said is clearly laid out and officially documented. Be aware that a lot of things can change during your time off, so you might not return to the same workplace you have left a year before, your work colleagues as well as your job function may change.

A sabbatical is about more than catching up TV series and reading books, it is about following dreams, reigniting passion, recovering and enriching one’s life. It is a unique opportunity that, however, must be carefully assessed. If you are considering taking a sabbatical leave, think about how it affects your job, career and your private life to ensure you make an educated decision.

By Desiree Schneider - Online Journalism Intern

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!