Career Break: Let Us Call It 'Fashionable Sabbatical'

The startup boom in India has led to a transformation in career continuity, taking a plunge in startups and, interestingly, attitude towards sabbaticals. Shedding inhibitions and letting go of fear to rejuvenate life is 'now' possible

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Finnish Prime Minister Sanna Marin (35 years old) has just returned from a month-long break. She was the youngest head of state in the world when she took the power of the happiest nation in the world. Prime Minister Marin has been at the forefront of finding ideas that matter to the future of work. Arguing in favour of work-life balance and rejuvenation, she has been living it. Sabbaticals are becoming an excellent and accepted route for professionals to find fresh ideas, rejuvenate and identify the next steps in their career.

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The word sabbatical has its origin from the Greek word ‘sabatikos’, known as the ‘day of the sabbath’ or the day of rest which occurs every 7th day in a week. It is also known as a break from work. Working daily shifts can exhaust an individual, and holidays are requisite to reclaim that lost energy. In the mainstream narrative, sabbatical is a long-term break that a professional takes leaving his current assignment. Sabbaticals enable introspection and create mind space to think beyond the existing constraints. One can think about education or skill development, improving personal health, strengthening familial bonds, or becoming an entrepreneur during a break. 

Sabbatical is not taboo

Work is an inevitable part of life, but sometimes people lose themselves while running with the hoard to earn more and live a luxurious life. However, there is more to life than the daily rut. Life is about following your passion, being adventurous and exploring the unknown. Historically, managers have treated career breaks as an excuse for candidates to run away from work, responsibilities, or sheer incompetence. Continuous and repetitive work in the same area without a change leads to exhaustion and eventual burnout. Burnouts take away productivity, induce stress, and can lead to term psychological disorders. 

New revelations and research about the human mind and body have the answers. Research shows that taking a career break is good for reducing burnout, stress and depression. Organizations have started to encourage short-term breaks to boost skill development and productivity. The focus is shifting from getting work done to work with self-care and consideration. In this age of talent wars, organizations have started to evaluate the long-term ROI of enabling short breaks for employees who have proven themselves loyal and are performers.

People from countries such as India, the UK, the US, Sweden, Italy, Spain and Portugal are big advocates for paid and unpaid sabbaticals to bring back spirit and zeal in the hearts and minds of employees. A survey that over 12,000 participants took from over eight countries showed that 79 per cent of people favour taking sabbaticals once, and 49 per cent do it to get rid of work-related stress. According to reports, 81 per cent of people in Italy, 76 per cent in Portugal and Sweden, 75 per cent in the US, and 62 per cent in the UK would consider taking yearly sabbaticals from work if the option was there. The most prominent reasons for the inclination towards frequent breaks are improving mental health, getting away from stress for work, travelling with spouse and children, improving physical health, or connecting with nature to cleanse and detox their mind and body.

A sabbatical is relevant for anyone constantly working in the same genre of work. But, the outcome can be a changed individual or changed path ahead. Award-winning actress Emma Watson declared that she would be taking a year-long sabbatical from the action to focus on her role as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador and do good for the world. Writer Hilary Mantel’s tip to get over writer’s block is to ‘Get away from desk’. Steve Jobs took a break and went to India to meditate and focus on things that mattered. Sabbaticals have value in enabling career change, especially towards startups. For example, Sweden legally provides a six-month leave to every employee to set up their business and make it profitable enough to support their livelihood. Many employees often work as part-timers during the sabbatical to finance their business idea and keep their lives on the right track.

Sabbatical is a choice that has implications beyond just the individual. One needs a clear purpose behind leaving the current job. It needs to be discussed in the family, planned for outcomes and arranged with a financial cushion. A senior HR executive at Amazon says that it is essential to take breaks lest you want to burn down or exhaust your productivity. She advises people to plan their sabbaticals a year in advance to harvest benefits for the time they spend away from the job. 

Due to the uncertainty in the sabbatical outcome, the individuals typically take care of their sabbatical. Arranging adequate finances for the break is an essential step in this journey. One must forecast the expenses and save for the sum to take the leap. One must not forget to get supporting insurances which the current employer provides. 

As the startups become more attractive and the grind of work becomes more intense, large organisations have started acknowledging the sabbatical trend in top performers. As a countermeasure, companies have begun to facilitate short-term breaks. Companies allow career breaks to employees with an excellent track record to retain and aid their personal growth. Such breaks boost productivity or give a new direction to careers; for instance, Charles Schwab provides a 28-day paid leave after an employee finishes five years with the company, Intel provides eight weeks off after seven years of continued service. It is becoming evident that sabbaticals are becoming an integral part of a professional career with clear long-term benefits and trendy enough to be called ‘fashionable sabbatical’.

Amit Kumar

Written By

Amit Kumar is a business leader who has built multiple internet consumer businesses in the last decade. He was earlier Managing Director of Kaymu (Merged with Jumia, Listed on NYSE). He likes to write about Leadership, Startups and Economics.