Until a colleague told me in 2018 about his plans for taking a sabbatical from work, I had never really thought about the idea.

I thought it was something only for professors. But I was wrong.

Curious, I asked my colleague, “What do you plan to do? How does this work?”

After explaining his plans to travel the world, build out a personal blog, and learn some new skills, I was convinced. A sabbatical from work is an experience everyone must have.

In early 2020, that colleague returned from his work sabbatical, ready to hit the ground running on a variety of exciting projects. That break reinvigorated his creativity and passion.

Seeing that, I’ve become even more interested in the work sabbatical. I believe the sabbatical belongs in everyone’s career path, and is especially important if you feel that 9-5 grind draining you.

While you may think taking a sabbatical from work is out of reach, due to personal and financial responsibilities, think again. It’s actually possible for anyone to do. Here, we’ll discuss all you need to know about taking a sabbatical from work.

What is a Sabbatical From Work?

A sabbatical from work is an extended break designed to recharge the body and mind. Beyond rest and relaxation, a work sabbatical is a time for learning and adventure. You can use it to pursue meaningful personal goals and work on passion projects. It’s not a month vacation from work, but rather unstructured time off for you to focus on what matters most.

So, why should you take a sabbatical from work?

Taking a sabbatical makes sense if:

  • You need to renew yourself to solve issues with decreasing productivity.
  • You feel a lack of motivation or are showing symptoms of burnout.
  • You find that you have many personal goals still unfulfilled.
  • You plan to make a career change and want some time to consider your next steps.
  • You want more time with family and friends and to enjoy life.

Research has long shown that breaks increase productivity and improve performance. Those who take more than 11 days of vacation per year are 30% more likely to get a raise, for example.

Considering this, we could say that taking a sabbatical from work isn’t just to rest. The time should serve as an integral part of professional development.

Treat Your Mind like Soil

The idea of a sabbatical comes from the Bible and has roots in the seven-year agricultural cycle Shmita, the Jewish Sabbatical Year, is the seventh year of the agricultural cycle. During the time, farmers would let the land lay fallow to restore its fertility.

Think about that for a moment.

Every seven years, the land rests to avoid overuse and sustain its health.

You should do the same with your mind.

What Can You do During a Work Sabbatical?

Taking a sabbatical from work isn’t meant for you to eat pizza and watch Netflix all day. You can definitely do that occasionally, but the purpose of a sabbatical is for rejuvenation and personal and professional growth.

Here are some endeavors I recommend for a work sabbatical:

  • Long-term travel: Go to those destinations you’ve long dreamed of visiting.
  • Retreats: Clear your body, mind, and soul through yoga, meditation, wilderness hiking, and more.This is a time to unplug!
  • Skills development: Study a new language, learn to code, attend continuing education classes, get a master’s degree and more.
  • Doing hobbies: Whether you love skiing or making art, a sabbatical from work is a time for the activities you love.
  • Working on passion projects: Have an idea that could change the world? This is the time to work on it.
  • Writing: Want to take a stab at writing the next great novel? Do it!
  • Spending time with family: Work responsibilities can get in the way of life. Use your work sabbatical time to catch up with those you care about most.
  • Volunteer: Give back to others during your time off.

Getting Approval: How to Ask for a Sabbatical From Work

Can you take a sabbatical and keep your job?

The answer is it depends.

For those employed with a company, a sabbatical from work may be paid or unpaid leave. Or, you may have to quit your job altogether.

Before you consider taking a sabbatical from work, review your company’s policy. Many businesses do offer sabbaticals as an answer to burnout and a way to recognize hard work and dedication. For instance:

  • Adobe offers employees sabbaticals as a way to relax and re-energize. You can take a four-week sabbatical after four years with the company.
  • Deloitte gives team members the chance to take a one-month unpaid sabbatical at any time. If workers need a longer time, they may take a three- to six-month sabbatical while receiving 40% of pre-sabbatical salary.

As you can see, there’s a chance you can take a sabbatical from work and still have a job waiting for you when you return.

To give you a more tangible strategy, here’s a quick guide on how to request a sabbatical from work (and still keep your job):

  1. Make sure your company allows taking a sabbatical from work. The time may be shorter than you’d like. But if job security is important, you may have to compromise.
  2. Create a pitch that highlights the benefits of the sabbatical. Your boss is more likely to approve it if you discuss why it will help your performance and the company.
  3. Outline expectations with your boss and your team members. Your company doesn’t want you to disappear, and you shouldn’t be unreachable. But you should also be unplugged, as this is a time to disconnect. Let them know you’ll check in once a week or so.
  4. Be ready to compromise. Perhaps you can take a three month break with half pay as long as you work one day per week. That may be better than having to quit your job.

If you are self-employed or run your own business, you should make arrangements well in advance with your clients. Either set the client up with partners and coworkers or take a break from the work altogether. Or, if you like the work a lot, perhaps you could take on a reduced role with the client during your sabbatical. Obviously, it’s probably best to figure out this on a case by case basis. You know your business best.

Actually Doing it: How to Take a Sabbatical From Work

Now, we get to the fun part: Beginning your sabbatical.

Let’s go over the steps of how to take a sabbatical from work:

  1. Set your budget. What will an average month of expenses be? How much do you need to save? If you’re short on cash, consider doing part-time remote work to fill in budget gaps.
  2. Arrange work. Don’t begin thinking about taking a sabbatical from work until you know what you’re doing about work.
  3. Handle the logistics. These include:
    1. Housing: If you’re going abroad, read our digital nomad housing guide. You should also make plans for your home if you won’t be there. Leasing it could offer some more cash flow.
    2. Health insurance: If you’re traveling, read our guide on travel insurance.
    3. Transportation: How will you get around if you’re staying abroad?
    4. Pets: Of course your cute dog or cat should go with you!
    5. Family members: If you have a spouse and/or kids, ensure they make proper arrangements too (especially if traveling).
  4. Make the first move. If you spend too much time thinking about it, you’ll hesitate and maybe even back out. Book that plane ticket or give your two weeks notice. The world awaits.

The First Year of the Rest of Your Life

It’s alarming that 52% of workers in the United States don’t use all their vacation time. It’s not because they love work so much, either. It’s because of too much societal pressure, poor workplace culture, and financial concerns.

This is a problem we must address. Yes, more vacation time helps. But we must go further and think more big picture.

This is why a work sabbatical should be a part of everyone’s career. We need an extended break to take a step back and hit the reset button. It’s how we can see the best path ahead and do even greater things with our time on this planet.

After all, we’re not on this earth forever. We should spend our time doing the things we love and find important.

So, while I’m hard at work now, doing projects that I enjoy, I know I’ll need to recharge in the future. That’s why a sabbatical from work is due for me within the next five years.

What about you?

About the Author

Nick Callos

Nick Callos has always had a passion for reading, writing, and discovering the new and unknown. Originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, Nick holds a Bachelor’s Degree in English from Boston College. He currently splits his time between his hometown, Chengdu, China, and the open road. A full-time travel writer, Nick hopes his work can inspire others to explore the world more deeply and enjoy the digital nomad lifestyle.