Sabbatical - Take It or Leave It?

Sabbatical - Take It or Leave It?

How would you like to spend six weeks, three months, or even a full year pursuing an educational experience instead of your job? Or how would you like to spend that time traveling the world?

If you think this sounds too good to be true, think again. According to Judy Nelson in her Forbes article “Do You Need a Sabbatical?” in 2017, 17 percent of employers offered either paid or unpaid sabbaticals. What’s more: The number of companies doing so is on the rise — predominantly to boost talent acquisition and retention.

Sabbaticals have long been standard in academia, where faculty members would typically get a year’s paid leave to pursue academic endeavors such as research and writing. According to Kathy Gurchiek in her SHRM article “Fill Skills Gaps Using Learning Sabbaticals,” in the business world, however, sabbaticals have two main objectives: either for employees to acquire new skills or to unplug and relax. Interestingly, people who take time off frequently return with innovative new ideas that benefit the company in the long run.

Nevertheless, even if your employer offers a sabbatical, it’s understandable if you’re wondering what the career implications are. Career gaps rarely look good on a résumé, so you might be wondering if your employer will still consider you a valuable asset when you go back to work. If not, you might miss out on a promotion or even lose your job.

One way to prevent this from happening is to first have a conversation with your supervisor about the skills and experience your organization wants to see in someone in your position — or in the next position up the career ladder. For example, a growing number of employers are looking for people with coding skills in addition to their core professional skills. This enables them to customize apps for specific processes and better communicate with programmers when the company is developing its own proprietary software. So, if you spend your time away learning C++, Python, or another programming language, it might be just what your company is looking for. At the same time, perhaps your company would like to see you acquire more leadership experience. If that’s the case, you could spend some time in a leadership position in a non-profit or volunteer organization. Another quality many employers like their managers to have is international experience, so you could determine which countries your company frequently does business with and spend some time there so you learn the language and become acquainted with the culture. Whatever you do, make sure that your experiences align with your company’s objectives. 

In short, before taking any paid or unpaid leave, find out what skills and experience your organization needs. Then leverage your time away so that when you return, you’re more valuable to your company than ever before.