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Research On Taking Career Sabbatical

I’ve just devoured a brilliant book, “The Yellow Envelope: One Gift, Three Rules, and a Life-Changing Journey Around the World”.  Kim Dinan & her partner make the brave/inspiring/nerve-wracking decision to quit their jobs and travel the world. They’re also given a yellow envelope containing a check and instructions to give the money away on their travels. The book tapped into something that has always been at the back of my mind, the idea of taking a career break to travel. So when Opodo asked me for my opinion on their recently commissioned research into British works and career breaks, it was fortuitous timing! 

Opodo’s research revealed that “More than half (54%) of Brits questioned believe it would be hard to return to work after a sabbatical”.  This does not surprise me, taking a sabbatical requires elements of risk coupled with financial security e.g. do we have enough to travel on? Can I rent my house? Will my job be secure on return?  Taking a sabbatical does not always mean unpaid leave. According the Opodo research, in order to receive some income during sabbatical leave, the employee can agree to a working time account with the employer, which over time accumulates time deposits e.g. getting paid for a 30-hour week but containing to work 40 hours. Therefore 10 hours is added to the employee’s time sheet, which they can redeem when taking a sabbatical to guarantee some income whilst on unpaid leave.

In an ideal world, we would all have the chance to take a sabbatical.  Modern working life is all-consuming, thanks to technology. In the UK, employees don’t have the ‘right’ to take a sabbatical leave. However, you can request a longer period of time off work. There are some employers who the chance to take a sabbatical e.g. to reward long service. A friend of mine, in a high-powered position, who had experienced a particularly tricky year in her personal life, was recently offered a month-long career sabbatical. Yet some employees are reluctant to take this up from both a financial and career point of view.  I also appreciate that offering a sabbatical is not always an attractive proposition for an employer, especially those running smaller firms.

I think if money were no object, everyone would benefit from the chance to switch off, relax and travel. My husband recently got the chance to experience this for himself.  After 17 years of working extremely long hours in a highly stressful environment, he had three months off. He returned to work (albeit in a new firm), refreshed and raring to go.  He certainly would not have been in the same place mentally having not had that time off. 

Taking a sabbatical to travel does not just mean sitting on a beach for a month, sipping a pina colada and working on your tan (although if that floats your boat, go for it).  You can use this time to learn a new skill or volunteer and give back to the community.  There are so many amazing organisations out there who rely on volunteers donating their time, from orphanages in Cambodia to animal sanctuaries in Costa Rica.

I often think how wonderful it would be to take a year off and travel the world with my Jetlag & Mayhem. At ages 8 and 6, it’s quite a convenient age to travel. No exams to worry about it, young enough that we can all share the same hotel room and most importantly, their eyes and hearts are hungry for adventure (and ice cream). It goes without saying, embracing a career sabbatical to go traveling takes guts.  It’s a brave person to step away from your career in a tough and competitive job market. However, I can only imagine you would return to the workplace even more enriched. Therefore more employers should be actively encouraging it. I’m sure they will reap the benefits through employee loyalty and reinvigorated workers


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