A year free from teaching at a school or college for pursuing research work, travel, or writing

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What is a Sabbatical?

The word sabbatical originates from the Biblical Sabbath, which is the observance of the day of rest or time of worship on the seventh day. In the field of education, a sabbatical or paid leave is commonly taken from teaching after seven years. Until today, religious sabbatical laws define the regulations that govern the system of observing the Sabbath.

The term is also used to describe a career break or period of time off. Among professionals, especially individuals working high-stress jobs with long hours, a sabbatical is a chance to take a break and prevent burnout.



  • Sabbatical originally meant a year free from teaching at a school or college for pursuing research work, travel, or writing.
  • A sabbatical was meant to be taken after a period of seven years.
  • In popular terms, a sabbatical now implies a break taken from the normal routine of employment or regular work.

Benefits of Sabbaticals

In “The Surprising Benefit of Work Sabbaticals,” a team of researchers from the United States, Israel, and New Zealand, found out that sabbatical leaves help decrease stress, encourage well-being (especially of the mind), and provide a welcome opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge. Corporate leaders who are aligned to the idea of providing sabbaticals believe that there is a good return on investment in doing so.

Effect of Sabbaticals on Leadership

Deborah Linnell of TSNE and Tim Wolfred of CompassPoint studied the effect of sabbaticals on leaders of a few not-for-profit organizations in their report titled “Creative Disruption, Sabbaticals for Capacity Building and Leadership Development in the Nonprofit Sector.”

They surveyed sixty-one leaders at five different foundations and found that the disruption created by a planned sabbatical proved beneficial for the entire leadership of an organization. They noticed that the second rung of leadership showed a marked increase in their organizational capacity as they took on new challenges. In fact, many interim leaders played a more collaborative role once the original senior leaders came back from their sabbatical.

On the other hand, the more senior leaders came back more confident from their break and showed more openness to new ideas and broader perspectives. The entire process of governance strengthened as a result of meticulous planning and learning that took place in the background of a sabbatical.

The individuals who are in a position to sponsor such sabbaticals also stand to gain from the insights and fresh perspectives taken in by those benefiting from the sabbatical.

The two researchers recommend the practice of funding sabbaticals as a best practice for developing leadership and succession planning, as well as organizational capacity-building.

Forced Sabbaticals?

Sabbaticals are possibly well sought after, but what if they are imposed?

Extended periods away from work are largely led by circumstances, which can be the loss of a loved one or a career disruption or relationship trauma. According to another study, an extended break from routine work provides at least three lasting effects – better relationships with loved ones, an elevated level of satisfaction, and an urge to move forward accepting change.

Scarcity of resources or comfort also indirectly improved the lifestyle for some. One of the participants in the study was an individual who spent a year with his spouse and children on a remote Scandinavian island, entirely surviving on the wife’s salary. It gave the family confidence that they could live on a lower income going forward.

Although taking time away might be the dream for many, there are some common challenges once a sabbatical starts, largely because work is no longer central to one’s life.

Relationships can also become strained as more time is spent with a partner without any separation. Conflicts may arise especially when traveling or when engaged in activities that are restrictive. Many believe clarifying expectations and setting boundaries will help.

Learn More

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