taking a sabbatical

The Inside-Scoop on Why Your Coworker is Taking a Sabbatical

You’ve been a staple of every team you’ve been on and contributed to the growth of every company you’ve worked at – but what about contributing to your own growth? You’ve thought about taking a sabbatical, but it also doesn’t feel like the right time, as maybe you think you’re too young or not far enough in your career. But DJ DiDonna, Founder of The Sabbatical Project, says think again; at any age or any stage, you can start thinking about putting a pause on the daily grind and resetting your mind with a sabbatical.

What is a sabbatical?

“There’s no commonly agreed-upon definition out there,” says DiDonna, “but we’ve proposed one in our research, that it’s extended time off from routine work for a purpose.”

“Extended,” DiDonna says, should mean at minimum two months. He adds many have sabbaticals that last three months, but the ideal range is four to six months. And “routine work” doesn’t mean that one can’t engage in work activities at all, but you should shy away from doing things that are adjacent to your former role, like consulting. You also must be intentional about your time off and utilize it in a way that you otherwise wouldn’t. That means no job hunting as well.

And though there are no traditional “sabbatical activities,” many take time off to figure out what the future of their lives will look like. At first, DiDonna says, it’s crucial to “detox” or “heal” from your years at work. Then, many people use the opportunity to do activities that American vacation time wouldn’t allow, like hiking El Camino or traveling to Asia.

Why take a sabbatical?

DiDonna says that, for the most part, people take a sabbatical for two reasons: a profound negative event or a positive possibility. A negative event includes burnout, a toxic workplace, the end of a relationship, or some kind of health crisis. And on the positive side, you might want to take the plunge and do something you’ve always wanted to do, invest time in your family, or put time into a new hobby.

“Usually, there’s something bubbling up inside of everyone that they want to explore,” DiDonna says. “The typical story we’re told about life is: you graduate and then work until you retire, but the reality is much bumpier. Luckily, there’s more cultural acceptance around taking time off, between jobs, and all throughout one’s career and life.”

The benefits

“According to our research, DiDonna says, “and interviews at the Sabbatical Project, people come back with restored health, reignited creativity, and greater self-confidence. They’re prepared to take risks, understand their value at work, as well as their personal values.”

This doesn’t just benefit the individual taking a sabbatical – the company also can reap the benefits of a reinvigorated employee.

“For a company, this can manifest in more loyalty, greater tenure, better worker engagement, and help with recruiting,” he adds. “Obviously, some folks will leave their jobs after taking time off, but I would argue those people were halfway out the door to begin with if all it took was some perspective and a deep breath to want to leave.”

But I’m too young for a sabbatical!

If you’re under 40 – or even under 30 – you might think that you haven’t yet earned a sabbatical. But DiDonna says that sabbaticals actually have no age range.

“People who are young think, “I can’t take time off, how will it look to future employers?” while people who are older are like, “Man, I wish I would’ve taken time off in my twenties when I had fewer responsibilities,” DiDonna says. “It’s a condition of the story we’re told about work and life. There are 7 or 8 inflection points in everyone’s life that make sense to invest in a sabbatical, ranging from a gap year before college to a twilight gap before retirement.”

In fact, DiDonna adds, before the age of 40, people often have fewer responsibilities and more time to take off.

“I’d say that the gap year, the mid-twenties exploration – the MBA is the most culturally-acceptable sabbatical – the thirties life crisis, an extended honeymoon, are all perfectly acceptable and recommended times to pause and step back via a sabbatical.”

How to ask for a sabbatical at work

Unfortunately, DiDonna says, the best way to ask for a sabbatical at work is “very carefully.”

“I usually recommend folks asking people at work who they trust if they or anyone they know at the company has taken a sabbatical,” he adds. “It’s really helpful to have that context to navigate asking for time off at work. The next step is to talk with HR and your manager.”

DiDonna says that sabbatical policies are becoming more common, so you shouldn’t feel like you’re imposing by asking. If your company is supportive of your sabbatical and they respond positively, that’s a sign of a really healthy work environment – one you might want to return to after your sabbatical.

Sabbatical tips and tricks

DiDonna’s first and biggest tip for taking a sabbatical? Just do it.

“Haven’t we all been through a collective brush with our own mortality?” he says. “Life is short, precious, and nothing is guaranteed. No one lies on their deathbed regretting having taken time off.”

Taking a sabbatical when you’re under forty might actually be the best option, DiDonna continues, as it gives you time to explore your identity.

“You’re still figuring out what you want to do, what gives you energy, who you are as a person,” he says. “We forget that a lot of where we end up in life is a result of inertia and what our peers are doing, versus intentional choices around who we are, what we’re curious about, and what makes us feel whole.”

So if you’ve been working a little too hard and you’re looking to refocus yourself or pursue a personal goal, consider taking a sabbatical. Even if you’re nervous about taking the plunge, it’s sure to pay off if you utilize the time to do something you love.