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A financial planner says retirement isn't the only way to combat burnout — a sabbatical might be the answer

Chloe A. Moore   

A financial planner says retirement isn't the only way to combat burnout — a sabbatical might be the answer

  • I hear it from clients and friends all the time: Everyone is experiencing some level of burnout.
  • I recommend taking a sabbatical, or an extended break from work, if you need to reset.

The past two years have been stressful for so many of us. Whether I'm speaking with friends, colleagues, or clients, I notice that everyone is experiencing some level of burnout.

Do you feel like you need a break from the daily grind that a one- or two-week vacation is not enough? Has the pandemic caused you to rethink your priorities and career path? Taking extended time away from work — otherwise known as a sabbatical — comes with many benefits. It can help reduce stress and give you the time needed to relax. It can also be an opportunity to learn new skills or plan your next move.

A sabbatical might seem far-fetched if you don't have a lot of money. With proper planning, though, it can be closer to your reach than you'd think. Here are a few tips on planning for a sabbatical and making the most of your time away.

Get your financial ducks in a row

Very few companies offer a paid sabbatical to employees, so making a plan for your finances is essential if you're looking to take extended time off. If your company offers a paid sabbatical, review the policy in detail. If there is no sabbatical policy, you have several factors to consider.

Start by reviewing your current income and expenses. How much do you need to cover your basic living expenses? Will you need additional funds to cover hobbies, travel, or educational costs that you have planned? How much cash do you have set aside? Do you have a spouse or partner who can help cover expenses or children dependent on your income? You'll need enough cash to cover your bills while you're not working plus an additional cushion to cover any unexpected expenses that may come up. Save as much as you can ahead of time. The more you can save, the better.

In addition to current expenses, consider how a sabbatical might impact your long-term retirement or financial freedom goals since you probably won't be in a position to save while you're away from work. Depending on the amount of time you want to take off, a sabbatical could also affect your future earnings potential. There's a chance that you could extend the timeline for a promotion or miss out on an opportunity to grow your career. Understanding this upfront will help your decision-making process.

Decide how you want to spend your time

Do you want to travel or spend quality time with loved ones? Are you considering a new career and need the time to develop new skills? Is this a good time to dedicate to a passion project or giving back? Thinking about how you will spend your sabbatical in advance will help you make the most of your time away. Having an idea of what you want to do gives you direction on how much time you may need off, what time of year makes sense, and how much money you'll need.

It's ultimately up to you to determine why you're taking the sabbatical and what you'd like to accomplish during your time away. Make a list of all the possibilities, reflect, and narrow the list. Then, factor in associated costs and the time needed to accomplish your goals. No matter what you decide, take the opportunity to relax and unwind in the beginning of your sabbatical. That way, you can return to work or start your next endeavor with a clear head.

Create your own paid sabbatical

Taking extended time away from work without pay is not always feasible, but you still might need a break if you're experiencing burnout. Consider the right time to take leave. Assuming you plan to return to your current company, you want to feel secure about your position and prioritize any important projects or deadlines.

It's a good idea to start a conversation with your employer early. Explain why you want to take a sabbatical and how the timing has been well thought out. Be prepared to discuss how taking leave can benefit your employer, how much time you'd like off, whether you will be accessible, and whether you will return to the same position. Sharing details of your plans, especially if they involve learning new skills, can help your employer get on board.

I've had a few clients with unlimited paid time off (PTO) take extended vacations for up to six weeks. An easy way to do this is to plan around existing holidays. For example, maybe it's possible to take off between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day or between Memorial Day and Independence Day. Even with unlimited PTO, your employer may need to approve an extended period away from the office.

Should your employer deny your request for a sabbatical, you might contemplate quitting your job. Or your leave could be sandwiched between jobs or a career change. Factor this into your budget so you're in a good position in any situation.

Having time to rest and recharge throughout your career instead of waiting until retirement can be a gamechanger. If you're lucky enough to work for a company that offers paid sabbaticals, take full advantage of this rare opportunity. If not, don't worry! Sabbaticals can be possible and meaningful with proper planning.


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