Take a Sabbatical?

Feeling burnt out? Consider taking a few months off work.


After 10 years working non-stop, Norm Lim Sang needed a break. The company he co-founded as a university student had evolved into a popular Web development and software firm, but in 2005 he and his partner decided it was time to close up shop.

Lim Sang could have easily found another job – and with only meagre savings to his name, he probably should have – but instead, he chose to pursue his lifelong passion for snowboarding in Nelson, B.C. “People said, ‘Why don’t you just take a trip to Whistler?’ But that wasn’t enough,” says Lim Sang, now 39. “So I left on Christmas Day and came out west to ride the big mountains.”

The technology entrepreneur didn’t go to find himself, nor was he trying to reimagine his career. He views the excursion, which lasted six months, as a sabbatical – he simply needed some time to himself. That’s a common feeling among overworked executives and employees, which is why 44 percent of Canadian companies offer unpaid sabbaticals, according to Hewitt Associates.

Many people, however, don’t take that time off. A 2013 study by Hilton HHonors found that while 70 percent of workers want to get away for a few months, only five percent think they’ll actually ever do it. For Lim Sang, escaping the working world involved radically changing how he lived. “I exchanged my lifestyle for passion,” he says. “It was a very good lesson.”

Most employees don’t take sabbaticals for the obvious reasons – they’re expensive, and they feel that being away from the workforce will hurt their career – but Alan Kearns, a career coach and founder of Ottawa-based Career Joy, says a months-long vacation can make you a better person and employee. Different experiences help people generate new insights that can help their career when they return, he says.

If you’re leaving a job, then consider creating a back-to-work strategy.

Before leaving on sabbatical, though, it’s important to come up with a plan, he says. Think about what you want to accomplish when you’re away and how you want employers, peers and your professional network to think about your time off. Position it the way the academic world does, he says – it’s a way to rejuvenate, but also to explore new things. If you’re leaving a job, then consider creating a back-to-work strategy, which might involve having some additional savings that will allow you to network as you ease back into the daily grind.

Lim Sang is thrilled that he took an extended vacation. He felt rejuvenated, and he now works as a manager for an online snowboarding store. Would he take several months off again? He would, though he’d do things a little differently the next time around. “I would do another sabbatical,” he says, “but I’d definitely save [money] first.”

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