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More companies are allowing sabbaticals

CREATED Apr 14, 2014

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Brian David Johnson is a futurist.  His job is to help predict what technology will be like a decade from now.  However, he recently took a few months off to focus on the here and now.

"When you spend that much time focusing on your mental health, your physical health and intellectual health, you come back as a changed person," he admits.

Johnson is among a growing number of professionals with the opportunity to spend time on sabbatical--taking anywhere from 6 weeks to a year off to travel, volunteer, or fulfill a life goal.

Elizabeth Pagano McGuire is with YourSabbatical.com.  She explains, "If you look at our current reality, we've got longer work days, there's a real blurred line between personal and professional lives.  Sabbaticals offer an opportunity to refuel and recharge."

A recent survey found 16% of companies now allow unpaid sabbatical leave.  Human resource consultant Dan Ryan says sabbaticals are growing in popularity, partly because expectations on the job have intensified.  "The pace of work now, especially after the economic downturn, is very frantic and the sabbatical is a very innovative way for companies to hang on and keep some of the really prized individuals, the ones who really make a difference."

Workers who take this extended leave typically have to meet certain requirements, like being employed a set number of years or doing something specific, like volunteering. 

"Some companies have what I would call very rich plans, where they'll pay full, full salary and benefits.  Other companies will say you can keep your benefits but we're only going to pay half your salary. And there are even circumstances where other people will take a sabbatical that will be unpaid but they will have a job when they actually come back," Ryan explains.

What if your company doesn't offer the option and you're burned out or just looking for a break?  McGuire suggests you negotiate it.  "Why would giving you time off benefit your team and your boss?  You have to really spell that out.  How is your work going to be done while you're gone?  Put that into a proposal."

If the cost of unpaid leave seems unattainable, McGuire says it's a matter of planning ahead and adjusting your expenses.

"You have to plan for it.  It generally takes one to three years.  You afford it by saving for it. It's just like any other important life experience. You cut your expenses, you put money away," McGuire says.

Johnson, who spent a year planning for his break, used his time away to write books.  "It allowed me to sort of get out of the mindset of corporate America and actually delve into more creative projects."

Dan Ryan of the Society for Human Resource Management points out, often the decision to take an extended break isn't about money, but about time to recharge.  He says, you can't add more time to your life but you can add more money.