Sabbaticals are common in professions like research and education. Several companies such as Microsoft also offer paid sabbaticals. In most cases, professionals return to their regular jobs after the time off.
But outside of employer-provided sabbaticals, many working professionals are afraid to take time off.
Yet, sabbaticals are a great way to push the pause button on your life, and to take stock of what you want to do next. My hypothesis is that workforce productivity will increase if more working professionals take time off to learn new skills, gain new knowledge and expertise, catch up on reading, reconnect with loved ones, make new friends or experience new things.
Yet, many working professionals are afraid to take time off for fear of the gap in our work histories, fear of the costs and because it’s not common practice.
But research shows that pushing the pause button improves health and productivity.
In a study titled, “Are vacations good for your health? The 9-year mortality experience after the multiple risk factor intervention trial” on 12,338 middle-aged men at high risk for coronary heart disease (CHD), at the Department of Psychology, State University of New York, Oswego, researchers found that lifespan was positively correlated with the frequency of vacations. Those who skipped vacations for five consecutive years were found to be 30% more likely to suffer heart attacks than those who took at least one week off each year. Missing even one year’s vacation was associated with a higher risk of heart disease. Further, the men who took vacations tended to be better educated and had a higher income.
A separate study on 749 women aged 45 to 64 years found that women who took a vacation once every six years or less were almost eight times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than those who took at least two vacations a year.
Further, in a three-year experiment on 1,400 employees of the Boston Consulting Group, Professor Leslie Perlow of Harvard Business School required employees to take time off, or predictable time off (PTO) as she called it. In a first experiment, employees had to take one day off in the middle of the work week. In a second experiment, employees weren’t allowed to work beyond 6PM on one night each week. The results of the study showed that downtime was positively correlated with job satisfaction and tenure at the company. 59% of those who embraced PTO agreed with the statement, ‘I am excited to start work in the morning’ compared with 27% of those who did not. And 78% of those who had just one evening off a week said they felt more satisfied with their jobs versus 49% of those who rejected it.
Shmita is a custom in Judaism. It is a sabbath or sabbatical year which occurs cyclically every 7 years when the land is allowed to rest. Those who observe Shmita are promised a bountiful harvest afterward.
Similarly, sabbaticals give you the opportunity to rejuvenate, re-energize and re-invent – your next personal or professional adventures.
Successful sabbaticals require purpose. If your purpose is to do nothing, it’s still a great goal, as long as you’ve consciously set it. Else, you can end up feeling de-moralized at the end of your time off. The key is to set conscious targets.
Do you want to lose weight? Do you want to build back your stamina, get into the habit of eating healthy? A health sabbatical allows you to focus your energy on this goal.
Community Work Sabbaticals
Take time off to work for the betterment of your community or to advocate for a cause. You can make a list of organizations and causes and develop a plan to get involved and then spend your time off doing just that.
Learning sabbaticals allow you to focus on learning one or more new skills. This is becoming very easy through online courses, which are making knowledge accessible and enabling the mobility of working professionals from one career to another. This is good for people as they discover hidden talent and fit, in addition to the opportunity to shift to more financially lucrative professions.
Is there an industry, topic or profession you’re interested in getting into? Taking time off to thoroughly research these will enable you to shift your career in a different direction.
These enable you to take the time to become an expert in a particular subject, whether it’s a combination of reading, taking online courses, conducting research, connecting with other experts in the field, and more.
Do you have a list of books you’ve been wanting to read for many years? A reading sabbatical can be about one thing and one thing only: to catch up on your reading.
Traveling or Cultural Immersion Sabbaticals
Spend your time off climbing mountains or running marathons around the world or just traveling for pleasure or to experience different cultures.
Take time off to spend with family and make new friends.
Personal Projects Sabbaticals
Do you have a laundry list of personal projects? Get them done by taking time off, so you can clear your shelves and de-clutter your mind.
These allow you to take time off to chase pure pleasure – dancing in Shanghai, hiking in Torres Paine National Park, taking a dip in the cold water of Deception Bay in Antarctica, watching the world go by in a café in Buenos Aires, and more.
Bucket List Sabbaticals
Life is short. Do everything on your bucket list before it’s too late. Give yourself the best birthday present you can – fulfill your dreams.
Take on short-term projects for a variety of customers in different industries and get exposed to a variety of problems, organizations, and functions.
Do you want to start your own business? Take time off to do just that. But make sure you’ve selected an idea first, and done some of the ground work and research on its viability. Or you can make it a research sabbatical and research business ideas during your time off.
This is a mix-and-match of any of the above forms of sabbaticals and other ideas you have.
The key to successful sabbaticals is to first give yourself permission to take the time off and next to clearly define their purpose. As you dive into any of the above-mentioned forms of sabbaticals, there will be a lot of up-front legwork that is required, which will eat into the time you have to execute. For example, if you want to do community service, you will have to research organizations, talk to them and then select the ones that are right for you. Make sure you do this legwork before taking the time off or leave enough time for it during your sabbatical.
© Copyright Alpa Agarwal 2013