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A sabbatical leave is a unique opportunity to take a break from busy work life, de-stress, and re-energise. For many, it’s even a great solution to find yourself (again) and gain new perspective after a quarter life crisis.

Sabbaticals are becoming increasingly common. Still, navigating through the In’s and Out’s of planning a career break is not always transparent. Planning your sabbatical can be an overwhelming task.

When we decided to take a year off from work to travel the world, we studied everything there is to know about taking a career break.

If you consider taking a sabbatical and wonder if and how to do it, this Ultimate Sabbatical Guide is for you.

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Need a break from your routine? Want to travel? Or just figure out your life? A sabbatical is great to de-stress and re-energize. But what exactly is a sabbatical? What types of career breaks are there? How do you take them and what should you remember? We summarised everything you need to know before taking a sabbatical in this ULTIMATE SABBATICAL GUIDE.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a period away from work, typically agreed with your employer.

Originally, the notion of a sabbatical roots back in academic life. Traditionally, it is a leave of one year that is granted for every seven years worked.

The term sabbatical is often synonymously used with career break or gap year. However, a typical characteristic of a sabbatical is that the individual will return to the same job after the leave.

The duration of a sabbatical depends on country and company specific regulations and typically varies from 1 to 12 months. Sometimes – as in our case – even longer sabbaticals are possible. Read more about how you can Convince Your Employer to Approve an 18 Months Sabbatical.

How common are sabbaticals?

According to a recent survey of Opodo, 71% of 12,000 surveyed millennials and Generation Z’ers would take a sabbatical if they had the option.

If you can relate to this pool of people, you’re clearly part of the majority and you’ll be happy to hear the following.

Companies are more willing than ever to consider extended time off for their employees. They recognise the measurable returns of sabbaticals for the organisation. It’s becoming common corporate belief that a break from the 9-5 improves personal health and morale. Increasing employee motivation and problem solving skills, a sabbatical can lead to higher overall satisfaction and performance.

To date, one quarter of Fortune’s 100 best companies to work for offer sabbatical leave programs.

Reasons to take a sabbatical

The reasons for taking a long leave of absence are based on a person’s personal and professional situation. Typically, they circle around a number of things.

People long for adventure (71%) or feel dissatisfied with their current routine life (42%), according to our Millennial Long Term Travel Survey.

Millennial Career Sabbatical Opodo

Source: Opodo

Opodo found that the TOP 1 reason to pause work is to get away from the stress of working life. Other reasons are to improve mental or physical health, and to go travelling.

Why are more and more millennials looking to escape their everyday routine?

We asked over 200 millennials how happy they are with their current everyday life. 87% responded that they have been thinking about taking a break from their daily routine. Over 2/3 of respondents have been thinking about a career break for even over 6 months.

Quarter life crisis is a major factor for taking sabbaticals

60% of millennials show signs of going through a quarter life crisis (First Direct Bank). Job dissatisfaction and search for a fulfilling career are key drivers that lead millennials into quarter life crisis.

Quarter life crisis is a period of soul searching and finding your path in life. Millennials ask themselves “is this what I should be doing right now?” Our career is becoming our identity, and our generation is experiencing an identity crisis.

49% of millennials consider to quit their jobs within the next two years, according to a recent 2019 Deloitte report.

Generation Y is a generation of nomads on both a physical and spiritual level.

Nowadays it is accepted to spend more time discovering what to do with our lives and frequently change course. We have unlimited possibilities. Therefore, we need time to explore and understand ourselves.

A sabbatical is for many a period of much needed “me” time to focus on those big life questions and finding clarity.

Paid vs unpaid sabbaticals

A sabbatical is usually an agreement with your employer with the condition that you will return to your job after the leave. Although people often refer to any career break as sabbatical, even in case they quit their job, during a sabbatical the employee remains employed.

There are two main types of sabbaticals – paid and unpaid.

Paid

During a paid sabbatical the employee receives a portion of their salary or the full pay. Usually, companies grant paid sabbaticals for shorter periods of time and to staff in leading roles. Obviously, a paid sabbatical seems to be the holy grail. Yet, keep in mind that there can be fine prints and obligations coming along with a paid sabbatical.

Unpaid

More commonly, sabbaticals are unpaid leaves of absence. The company keeps the job on hold and commits to offering the same or equivalent position after the sabbatical return.

How do you qualify for a sabbatical?

Unfortunately, there is only very few countries whose labor laws have strict sabbatical policies. In countries that don’t actively suggest businesses to grant sabbaticals, companies draw their own regulations.

There are factors that determine whether somebody does or does not qualify for a sabbatical:

  • How long you have been employed by the company: Often you need to be employed by the company for at least 3 years to qualify for a sabbatical.
  • The type of employment contract you have: Usually you need an unlimited full-time employment contract.
  • Your position or salary grade: In some companies only staff in management roles is allowed to take sabbaticals.
  • Your performance: The higher, the better – easy. You gotta try and slay that performance review!
  • If and when you have taken a sabbatical in the past: You might be required to work for a certain number of years before taking another sabbatical.
  • Your work: If your work is project based, you might be asked to align your sabbatical with the timings of your projects. If you’re doing operational work, your sabbatical might depend on if and how quickly your boss can arrange a replacement for you.

Although certain rules (or no rules) around taking a sabbatical could look like bottlenecks, don’t worry! Sabbaticals are negotiable. 

What to do during a sabbatical 

A sabbatical should be a period of focusing on things that we usually don’t have sufficient time for. What are examples of things to do in a sabbatical year and how can you make the most of your leave?

Travel

Discovering new countries and cultures expands your horizon and lets you learn more about the world. Taking physical distance from your everyday environment also helps you shift focus inwards. It create mind space for reflecting and recouping. Defining clear intentions for your trip and picking travel destinations purposefully will help to make the most out of your time away. 

Travel & work

This can be anything from making a little side income from waiting tables to freelancing as digital nomad or exploring entrepreneurship. Working during your sabbatical is not only a great opportunity to get in touch with locals. It can also be a unique time to test drive new career paths. Note that your company might have regulations for working during your sabbatical. While employers might accept minor jobs, they might not always allow you to work for another company. Read more about this in our article Taking a Sabbatical – 5 Things To Know Before You Go. 

Relax & meditate

Leave the stress and rush behind and zen out! Do yoga in Bali, listen to the waves, rewind over a long hike in the mountains, spend days in a hammock reading your favourite books. Who says life has to be always stressful? Take a break, recover, and find new energy for the next chapter of life. There are beautiful things you can only see when you slow down! 

Volunteering

Many use their sabbatical for giving back and making a difference for the less advantaged. From picking fruits to teaching English or taking part in research programs, possibilities are endless. There are organisations specialised in connecting you with running projects and initiatives.

Focus on hobbies and/or learning new skills

“If I had more time, I would do more sports.” Or “If I had more time I would learn to play the guitar / do a cooking class / start a blog / ______.” 

Mentally raise your hand if you have ever said that to yourself. This is your time! A sabbatical gives you the chance to really take me time and do things you usually don’t find time or motivation to do during your everyday life.

How to take a sabbatical without ruining your career

While in the past a gap in the resume basically meant career suicide, the world looks much different today. A gap does not always equal gap if you have a convincing story. If you don’t want or don’t have the possibility to return back to your old employer, we can cheer you up!

Instead of presenting a mere gap in your resume, turn things around! Show how your sabbatical enhances you to become a more qualified and energised employee, career experts advice. 

To guarantee that you have a unique and convincing story to tell, we recommend you to read our comprehensive guide How To Convince Your Employer To Approve an 18 Months Sabbatical. We help you to build your pitch and suggest a conversation guide for discussing your sabbatical idea with your employer.

How can you afford to take a sabbatical?

Especially if you’re going for an unpaid career break, it’s fundamental that you have your finances sorted.

The main ways to finance your time away will be living off savings, working, or generating passive income. Depending on your intentions, there will be a best suited way of financing your break. You can also think of combinations of multiple methods.

Living off savings

You save up money before the sabbatical period and use it to finance your time away from work. Keep in mind that you should also think about your financials for after the sabbatical if you decide to not return back to your employer.

Working

While working during your sabbatical can be a good solution for everyone who is interested in exploring new career paths, keep in mind that it might become a burden. If your main objective is to de-stress, getting another stressful job won’t do you any good. Also, check with your employer if you can work elsewhere during the leave period. 

Passive income

Making money while not having to work for it sounds like a too good to be true solution for many. Yet, there are ways to make it happen with the right knowledge and preparation. If you want to learn more, you might be interested in our summary of our TOP 8 Favourite Resources To Financial Independence For Beginners.

Taking a Sabbatical Leave

If you’re interested to know how over 200 millennials finance their sabbatical travels, download our FREE e-book How To Travel When You’re Not Rich. It breakes down all income sources of long term travels by percentage and describes every finance method in its details.

Things to consider before taking a sabbatical

Although it might seem otherwise, as with everything else, a leave of absence can also have drawbacks.

While none of the items are deal breakers, there are tings you should at least be aware of before applying for a sabbatical. It’s picking the best timing, arranging your financials, and knowing that there might be current work benefits that you will lose.

In our article Taking a Sabbatical – 5 Things To Know Before You Go we wrote a summary of points you should consider before applying for a sabbatical.

Ready for your sabbatical?

A sabbatical can be a unique and amazing opportunity to relax, enjoy, and prepare for the next phase in life. We hope that this Ultimate Sabbatical Guide prepared you well with everything you need to know about sabbaticals.

If you’re ready to start planning your sabbatical, leave a comment below!

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