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Taking a Sabbatical From Work? 4 Things to Consider

What are the potential benefits of an extended break from work—and what do you need to know to help make it work for you? A wealth specialist who took a sabbatical herself shares her perspective.

Four people smiling are seated next to each other at a conference table.

After six-plus years as a Wealth Advisor at Wells Fargo Private Bank in San Francisco, Marci Rosenfeld was looking for a renewed perspective on her work and for an opportunity to share her talents in her community. So she approached her manager about participating in Wells Fargo’s volunteer leave program, hoping to lend her financial experience to San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum.

“It was fantastic,” says Rosenfeld, who returned to her job after her leave feeling energized and refreshed. “I was in a new culture and a new environment where I was able to not only apply my skills, but also learn from the museum. The break was a great opportunity for personal and professional growth.”

Students are often said to benefit from taking a so-called “gap year,” a break after high school and before college. But research shows that adults of all ages could also benefit from taking a sabbatical from work—the rejuvenation that results could improve productivity and also benefit the employer’s bottom line.

Here, Rosenfeld outlines four key things to consider before taking any extended break from work to help make the experience worry-free and enriching.

1. Examine your portfolio

Rosenfeld says it’s important to look at your cash flow and portfolio before taking time off—not only retirement accounts, but also real estate investments and other assets that might still need routine contributions and attention while you’re preoccupied with volunteer work, learning new skills, or other pursuits.

Along with reviewing your portfolio before taking a sabbatical, she recommends scheduling periodic check-ins involving a wealth specialist, if needed, regarding getting updates on status of your assets. Keep in mind that not every employer offers paid sabbaticals, and vacation time may not cover the duration of your absence, so you will want to have a plan to manage cash flow.

2. Ask for your family’s input

Rosenfeld says you should discuss your desire to take a sabbatical with your spouse, partner, or other family members who could be impacted by the decision. Along with sharing why the break is important to you and what you hope to achieve, talk to them about the timeline of the break, as well as any financial or other changes that could take place as a result.

In discussing goals with her clients at The Private Bank, Rosenfeld has found that many of them share a common concern: how to serve as a good role model for kids and grandkids. A sabbatical can be a great opportunity to demonstrate how taking the time to learn a new skill or help a worthy cause can provide joy and fulfillment. She recommends this type of life change as one way to impart some positive life lessons on the value of working and investing to the next generation.

3. Explore your options if you own a business

Length of sabbatical is a primary consideration for a business owner. If you rarely take vacations, a months-long absence could be unrealistic. As you’re thinking through how long your leave should be, review your daily activities and overall responsibilities and put them into categories based on level of importance to see what, and if, you can delegate.

The next step is to gather your colleagues to talk through your plans and discuss options for handling your absence (which could include hiring short-term employees to help with some duties while you’re away). You should also share what you hope to gain from the sabbatical that could benefit the company—and the work it produces—so that your colleagues can anticipate potential positive changes down the road.

Also remember that a sabbatical doesn’t need to be a complete separation from your role. For example, you could want to schedule a regular check-in call with your team to address any issues.

4. Explore your options if you’re an employee

While many companies have formal policies on work breaks and could even continue to pay a full salary during time off, others make that determination on a case-by-case basis. If the latter applies at your company, present a solid proposal to your employer about your desire to take a sabbatical to get their buy-in or to discuss your options, Rosenfeld says.

That involves answering these questions: How could a sabbatical ultimately benefit the company? Why is right now a good time for me and the company to take a sabbatical? Who could take on my responsibilities? What skills and insight could I bring back to the company? How could I communicate with the company while I’m away? In Rosenfeld’s case, she found it key to check her email weekly to stay connected with work and be sure that her clients’ needs were being addressed.

Although you will likely return to work feeling energized and full of ideas, Rosenfeld says, based on her own experience, there’s a bit of a readjustment. That familiar desk and those familiar faces could seem a little less so, which means getting back into the groove could take some time.

But in the end, Rosenfeld says the experience could be a rewarding one that benefits you and your employer. “I use the phrase ‘taking a break,’ but in reality, I was working pretty hard,” Rosenfeld says. “In some respects, it was much more challenging—but it was one of the best things I’ve ever done.” 

Sarah Tuff Dunn is a frequent contributor to Conversations. She also writes for The New York Times, Men's Journal, Runner's World, and Women's Health.

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