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The relentless tyranny of the urgent and the ever-growing pace of challenging change can slowly erode the joy from the passion that brought you to your chosen career.  In the same way that a marriage can be refreshed when the couple commit to a regular date night away from the children and the pressures of work and family, your career needs time set aside for rest, re-invigoration, reset or renewal.

What is a sabbatical?

Amongst academics and church leaders, the tradition of the sabbatical is well established.   Sabbaticals may not follow the one year in seven cycle implied by the biblical injunction to keep the sabbath.  Duration and frequency vary.  Three months seems like the minimum period to constitute a proper break to rest, reflect and renew.  More than a year is exceptional.

The basis for a sabbatical also vary.  For some employers, it is an extended period of unpaid leave.  For others, they will maintain pension contributions and benefits but pay is suspended.  In rarer circumstances, the sabbatical is a contractual right provided at full pay.  Sometimes the employment contract is suspended, giving freedom to work, study or volunteer anywhere.

Why take a sabbatical?

The justification for a sabbatical seems to be a matter of negotiation.   Is it an opportunity to reconsider your future? the necessary time out to finish the book, play, composition, painting, PhD, Masters or other life project?  a risk-free chance to try out a different workstyle, country or business start-up? an employer provided alternative to redundancy during an economic downturn?  Or an unencumbered time of rest, reflection and renewal.

One of my clients, a church leader, was forced to take a sabbatical while a critical governance issue was mediated.  Another client negotiated a sabbatical to explore a portfolio executive workstyle and worked truncated notice to pursue a portfolio executive future.  A third client, was CEO of a national charity, growing it from early days to a key influencer in debt advice.  More than 10 years in, he was tired and ready to rest and reflect.  He returned, refreshed and renewed to prepare the charity for major transition and ultimately the appointment of a new CEO three or four years later.

Mutual benefit?

If your employer is looking to make cutbacks but you know you are a valued member of the team, now could be the right time to negotiate a sabbatical.  Even if there is no sabbatical policy, avoiding redundancy can be important to you both.  Whatever the situation on your return, you have both retained the option to continue and your employer has reduced their immediate costs.

Perhaps, crisis has triggered a re-assessment of what is important for you. However a snap decision to leave with nowhere to go, in an uncertain job market is risky.  A sabbatical could the best, next, step.

Choosing to take a sabbatical to renew your love for what you do.

This article was originally posted in KCW London, in July 2020. You can see the original article here.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.