Sabbaticals - A Strategic Career Move?

In a world where hustling and constant busyness reign supreme, the idea of taking a break may seem like a distant dream. However, sabbaticals have emerged as the antidote to the never-ending grind, with even the likes of Bill Gates embracing the concept of a "think week" to nurture his intellectual pursuits. Yet, despite their growing popularity, workplaces still harbour a certain unease when it comes to sabbaticals. Many employees hesitate to disclose their sabbatical aspirations during job interviews, fearing it might raise eyebrows.

A research from the University of Washington is here to shatter the scepticism and reveal the hidden benefits that sabbaticals bring to both employees and employers. It's time to unravel the truth behind the transformative power of taking a sabbatical.

The interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Why a Sabbatical is a Smart Move in a Changing Economic Landscape

Why did you take the sabbatical? Was it to explore the mysterious Bermuda Triangle or uncover the recipe for the perfect cup of coffee? Well, well, not quite! Turns out, most folks take a sabbatical due to a "down market" – the best time to plan an escape, they say!

Kaavyya Kesarwani, who works in the crypto banking ecosystem, found herself on a sabbatical at the height of the US banking turmoil. With marketing activities slashed and a desire for a new professional direction, she entered into discussions with her employer. "We had conversations about what is it that I can do," Kaavyya explained. "There was not a lot for me to execute at that time until the macro climate got better. But they still had the intention to retain me" This dialogue resulted in her employer suggesting a two-month break—an opportunity for Kaavyya to explore freelancing, and personal projects, and discover her true passions. The sabbatical allowed her the freedom to redefine her career path and evaluate her interests beyond the traditional corporate structure.

For Pankaj Chawla, an ex-VP and Head of Engineering & Technology, his sabbatical was driven by a desire for change and the need to detach from the demanding world of work. "Sometimes multiple things come together," Pankaj shared. "The whole macroeconomic environment wasn't really great. The businesses haven't been going very well." With the groundwork laid for his team to operate independently, he decided it was the right time to step away and reassess. Despite concerns about the job market, Pankaj believed that these challenging times offered unique opportunities for personal growth and exploration. He saw his sabbatical as an opportunity to focus on family, delve into emerging technologies like generative AI, and detach from constant professional demands.

Siddharth Sharma, ex-CTO of and is writing a book on sabbaticals, Reflecting on his journey, Siddharth shared, "My first sabbatical came about because I had burned out. I was working as an investment banker in London, but I never felt like a banker at heart. The entire environment was hostile to me."

In a twist of fate, Siddharth's decision to take a break led to unexpected outcomes. "After three years of sabbatical, the job I used to have in London got outsourced to India. They called me back and made me the boss. I had slaved away in banking without receiving a promotion, but after my three-year sabbatical, I received a double promotion." Siddharth's experience demonstrates the strange and unpredictable nature of the world.

According to Siddharth, the universe is abundant with opportunities, making meticulous planning futile. A lot of us are overthinking if we will land a job after the sabbatical or not. He advises, "Just take the leap. Don't doubt your ability to secure a job. Society is designed to support hardworking individuals with qualifications. Everyone wants you to succeed and find employment. So, don't worry about it."

Some say timing is everything, and in a down market, it just might be the best time to grab that golden ticket.

Beyond the Break - A Strategic Career Move? Or a One-Way Ticket to Paradise?

“Taking a sabbatical during a down market is undoubtedly a wiser choice when compared to the risk of losing a job in a thriving bull market. In such a scenario, countless questions would arise: "Why did you get fired? Why did you step away when the market was booming?" On the other hand, if you quit your job or find yourself unemployed during a bear market, it hardly raises an eyebrow. In fact, it's a well-known fact that thousands of people have been laid off and have taken time off during these challenging times. Therefore, it's not at all unusual or strange that you decided to take a break or explore other opportunities during that period." Siddharth tells us.

Siddharth reflects, highlighting the changing perception of career breaks. He poses a thought-provoking question, "Why would you hold on to a job, like a struggle that could be ripped out of your hands tomorrow?" Siddharth emphasizes that “Individuals often lack control over decisions made in boardrooms, making it wiser to step back and assess the rapidly changing landscape, including advancements in AI and other disruptive technologies. Rather than clinging to a legacy job, he advocates for taking a pause, allowing for much-needed rest and upskilling.”

"In these bear markets, nothing in nature moves in a straight line. So you can go to the beach and try and fight the waves or you can go with," Siddharth metaphorically illustrates, encouraging individuals to embrace the natural flow of the job market.

But what about organizations? Should they encourage and support sabbaticals? 

Pankaj thinks that while some companies do offer these breaks, making it a norm for everyone might be challenging. However, organizations can have policies to help employees cope with burnout, such as counselling programs and phased approaches to managing overwhelming situations.

Addressing concerns about skills becoming outdated during a sabbatical, Siddharth draws attention to the real drain: neglecting personal upskilling. "If your company chose Angular, you learn Angular and that's all you learn. And that's all you ever work on. No one else is bothered about you. The only person who's upskilling yourself will be you, so the longer you stay at the job the more obsolete you're going to be," Siddharth warns. Sharing his personal experience, he reveals how a three-month study leave helped him revive his career and adapt to the changing market demands.

The conversations shed light on the fading notion of lifelong employment and the increasing burden on individuals to proactively manage their careers. Siddharth highlights the importance of embracing sabbaticals as a chance for personal growth and rejuvenation, enabling individuals to emerge stronger, more adaptable, and well-equipped to thrive in a rapidly changing professional landscape.

The notion of taking a six-month break every 10 years may not seem like a significant expense individually, roughly around 5% of one's total work period. But when applied to an entire workforce, it can appear cost-prohibitive to employers. However, in industries like tech, where employees tend to have shorter job tenures, offering shorter breaks of three to four months can significantly increase employee retention. By recognizing the positive impacts on recruiting, retention, employee rejuvenation, and work-life balance, companies can demonstrate their commitment to their employees' well-being and maintain their top talent.

In an era where loyalty between employers and employees is diminishing, sabbaticals provide an opportunity for individuals to take control of their professional journey, ensuring their skills remain relevant and their career trajectory remains on an upward trajectory.

Next week’s issue will talk about How to form a Sabbatical Policy at work, stay tuned!

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