Why a Sabbatical can Lead to Professional Wellness

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Taking time off….. It sounds like a career killer. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I’ve taken four sabbaticals and each time I came back to work better off professionally and personally. My colleagues and I have also spoken to over 300 individuals who said the same. So what’s the trick?

If you think about it, everything we use in life needs to be refreshed or recharged at some point or we replace it.  A house needs repainting periodically, we recharge batteries, we go for physicals and to doctors to keep our bodies in shape, we tune up our cars and service our heating systems. So why should our spirit and our mental wellness be any different?

Most of you who are reading this have been working without a break since you were 18 or 21. It doesn’t matter how good you are your job; we all need time to refresh and rejuvenate ourselves. According to an survey, 63% of Americans work more than 40 hours a week and hand back more than $21B in unused vacation dollars each year.  Americans put in two to three times more hours on the job each year than Europeans.

Research shows that people are more creative, innovative, and happy at work when they have more time off. Breaks from work of one month to three months to six months can significantly enhance a person’s professional life after their time off, making a formerly stressed worker a more productive, creative and innovative team member.
Some benefits of disconnecting from work for a period of time include time to: 
    •    Reflect on what is really important to you in your life
    •    Reconnect with friends and loved ones
    •    Have time and space to heal physically, emotionally, or spiritually
    •    Learn something new that energizes you
    •    Explore new hobbies or career directions
    •    Get back to exercising and in shape
    •    Travel or explore different cultures and gain new perspectives and personal insights

Even if you do nothing, you will benefit from the simple fact of having space and time. Those two things alone will lead you to return to work refreshed and recharged. 

Huge benefits also accrue to the organization where you work. Twenty-one of Fortune Magazine’s 100 2011 Best Companies to Work For offer formal sabbatical programs.  If your workplace does not offer a formal sabbatical program, don’t worry. Go to your boss in hand with a plan of who is going to cover your work while you are away. Sabbaticals build organizational breath and depth. They:
    •    Test someone’s ability to step into another job in real time not just hypothetically
    •    Enable a clearer understanding of what others do in their roles
    •    Lead the person on break to return with a broader perspective and greater potential for being more strategic and open to new ideas and approaches.
    •    Build teamwork. I cover for you because you will cover for me
    •    Build loyalty and retention
    •    Energize the team and workplace with new ideas and creativity

Sabbaticals are one of the best leadership development tools a company can have at its disposal. You grow and so does your company. Many people in interviews have said that they were promoted within a few months of taking a sabbatical. It happened to me too after one of my breaks. If you want to enhance your value to your company as well as to yourself, it’s time you consider giving yourself the gift of time for your professional wellness.


About the author:
Rita Foley is a co-author along with Catherine Allen, Nancy Bearg and Jaye Smith of Reboot Your Life: Energize Your Career and Life by Taking a Break. She is a Corporate Director, retired Fortune 500 Global President, and a committed leader in numerous organizations dedicated to improving the health and lives of individuals.


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