Chances are, you’ve said at least once to yourself in the last year that you really need a break. You’ve probably thought about all the things you could get done while away from work, such as travel, writing a book, volunteering, or giving your mental health a boost. Enter a sabbatical, which is rising in popularity.
A sabbatical is an extended period of time away or a break in routine from work. The concept is growing in popularity as wellness, flexibility, and work/life balance are being prioritized in the workplace. People take sabbaticals to re-energize themselves creatively, develop a new skill, or pursue passions outside of work. They can also be taken as a mental health break for dealing with things like personal crises or burnout. Sounds pretty good, right? But not all sabbaticals are created equally, and it takes some advanced planning to be able to truly enjoy your time away from work. Here’s what a sabbatical is (and isn’t), and how to prepare for one.
What a sabbatical is—and is not
Taking a sabbatical doesn’t mean running off to the nearest beach for an undetermined amount of time, unfortunately. In fancy H.R. terms, a sabbatical is a contract between you and your company where they are investing in your personal or professional growth through time away from work. You remain employed by your company during the sabbatical. It is not quitting and then being reemployed, nor is it a long-term disability.
Every sabbatical is set up differently. Some are paid, some are paid partially, and some are unpaid. It can be anywhere from a month to years long, depending on what your company’s policy is, and it may only be offered to employees who have served a certain amount of time at a company. You could be granted a sabbatical, no questions asked, or you could have to apply and outline what you will do with your time off and how it will benefit the company.
Sabbaticals don’t just benefit employees; they can be appealing to employers. Increasingly, as The Great Resignation morphs into The Great Reshuffle, employee retention is important and perks are one way to promote employee well-being. More companies are open to sabbaticals as a way to provide work/life balance and invest in their employees long term.
How to prepare for a sabbatical
If you and your company decide a sabbatical is mutually beneficial, there are a few things you need to consider before taking your leave, such as having a plan in place to cover your workload and having your finances sorted and benefits lined up.
Get your finances in order
If your sabbatical is only partially paid or unpaid, you’ll need to line up a way to pay your non-discretionary expenses, such as your mortgage, credit card debt, and utilities through savings or passive income, or dramatically reducing your costs while on leave, if possible. Determine just how much you’ll need by examining your normal expenses and see how you can adjust your cash flow to accommodate saving more prior to taking your leave. If the timing is tricky, low-interest personal loans are also an option, although you could be penalized for paying the loan back early. Check with your financial institution for more information.
Check your workplace benefits
You’ll also want to take into consideration your insurance premiums. If you’re paid while on sabbatical, some companies might offer full health benefits through payroll deduction. Depending on the situation, partially paid or unpaid sabbaticals might see a company extend the coverage to you but make you pay for it out of pocket through Continuation of Healthcare Coverage (COBRA). It could be that you aren’t offered any coverage at all, so you’ll have to buy it yourself through a marketplace.
If you have group life insurance through your job, the full benefits might be offered to you through continued payroll deduction, or they might be offered and you pay out of pocket. Keep in mind that employer-provided group life insurance is usually maxed out at only one to two times your salary, which for most of us, would not be enough to cover our families in the long run. It’s not portable should you change jobs upon returning, either.
Check your voluntary benefits
There are voluntary coverage payments to consider, such as term life insurance like Ladder offers. Generally speaking, if you apply for and get coverage prior to taking a sabbatical, you should be covered so long as you continue to pay the premiums. It gets a little more complicated if you want to apply while you are on sabbatical. Employment status and income are two of several factors Ladder uses to calculate your overall financial picture, and being on sabbatical can affect how much coverage you can get or how much that coverage will cost.
One thing to note: If you apply for coverage while on sabbatical and plan on traveling for an extended period of time, it could affect your coverage and or premium, depending on where you’re going and how long you’re gone.
A sabbatical can be an effective way to work on personal or professional growth if you’ve set it up right, but it takes some advance planning. You’ll need to examine your finances and benefits closely to come up with a plan to cover yourself during your time away from work, including any voluntary coverage like life insurance.