The Benefits of Taking a Sabbatical
By Joe Issid
Historically, sabbaticals have been very prevalent in the world of academia, offering tenured professors’ time away from their teaching responsibilities to pursue other opportunities. In recent years, however, a growing number of commercial businesses have started adopting sabbatical programs as a value-added employee benefit. In fact, according to Fortune Magazine, 19 of the top 100 companies to work for offer some form a paid sabbatical program.
But what about taking a sabbatical before your career has even started? In many parts of the world, a so-called “gap” year is a fairly standard practice for young graduates who wish to take some time to engage in personal or professional pursuits before formally entering the workforce (or continuing with their secondary educations). It has become so commonplace in places such as the UK that it is considered odd if you choose not to take a gap year at all. Whether you are choosing to take a sabbatical mid-career or as a new graduate taking a gap year, the benefits are fairly universal.
It is extremely easy for your parents to forget how difficult and stressful it can be completing a secondary education. Whether you are about to enter university or you have just completed an undergraduate degree or diploma, it is undeniable that getting to this point has taken considerable effort. As such, a gap year can provide you a wonderful opportunity to take time off to relax and disconnect. Many employers are beginning to recognize the value of gap years as the long-term benefits are clear: retention rates increase and productivity improves as employees are happy and well-rested.
Improve your career
In academic circles, sabbaticals often involve performing research and/or immersing oneself in a new field of study. And the commercial world is no different. Taking a sabbatical to learn a new skill or trade can be immeasurably beneficial to your long-term career goals. Depending on how much time you are able to take, you may be able to develop a slew of new skills or obtain some form of additional accreditation or certification that can lead to increased earning potential. However, keep in mind that many employers will be looking to ensure that your travails on your gap year provide them with a long-term benefit.
Achieve personal goals
Maybe you have always wanted to climb Everest or move to Australia to become a scuba instructor. Or maybe you are destined to write the next great Canadian novel. A gap year allows you to pursue these types of passion projects without the risk of having to quit your job or put your entire future in jeopardy. A great deal of professional achievement can come via great personal fulfillment and a gap year can allow you the luxury of working on personal goals that will certainly benefit your career down the road. And confining this endeavor to a year can allow you to put many things in their proper perspective.
Improve your health
Taking time off following a very stressful period in your life can carry some tremendous health benefits. Whether conscious or otherwise, your academic life introduced a great deal of stress that may have manifested itself in many different ways. Ridding yourself of this stress can have some very tangible daily benefits, such as improving your sleep habits, regulating your diet and providing you additional time for exercise. For those of us who spend a tremendous amount of time hunched over a computer, we are at increased risk of developing postural issues. Taking a year away from the rigors of work and study can result in significant skeletal and postural relief.
Try something new
Not many of us are afforded the opportunity to simply pack up and move to a new city or country at any point in our lives. Heck, many of us are not able to make it across town to try a new restaurant without a measurable degree of difficulty. As such, relocation is a very popular use of gap years. I know of many people who have taken a break pre- or mid-career to move to a new country to experience a new culture and way of living. This can be incredibly exciting and can fulfill many personal and professional objectives (such as learning a new language or better understanding people from a different culture). Who knows you can actually find a dream job relocating to a city you never dreamed of.
Ultimately, gap years are what you make of them. They can be as domestic or adventurous as you like. However, as with most things, the devil is in the details. If you take a gap year, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons and be prepared to defend your decision. Any gap (no pun intended) in your resume will raise questions; however, as long as you are honest and clear, this should not be a decision that is too hard to defend.