Life’s a marathon, not a sprint.

We’re all familiar with this saying generally applied to scenarios that require pacing and patience. 

Basically, great things take time. But have you ever thought of your career as a marathon and not a sprint?

Depending on your level of education, you may have started full-time work anywhere between the ages of 16 to 21. Considering the average retirement age is 62.9 years, this means you potentially have over 40 years of work in your lifetime. Even if you’re lucky enough to earn a salary that allows you to bring your retirement age down to say, 55, you’d still be in the workforce for well over three decades.

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You might be one of the lucky few who loves what you do, where work doesn’t feel like work at all. But for most of us, work can sometimes feel like a never-ending stream of stress, long days, and living for Friday or that next big holiday. That’s no surprise given that 57% of Australians say work is the biggest contributor to stress in their lives.

If you’re feeling burnt out from your job, a sabbatical might be just what you need to gain some perspective and come back to work with a renewed focus.

Is it time for a career break?

The theory goes that if you pursue a career in something that you really love and then it won’t feel like work at all. Realistically, that isn’t feasible for everyone. You need to put food on the table and support yourself from the moment you leave home. You might find yourself with unexpected responsibilities at a young age. Whatever the reason, many people fall into a career and find they have no idea how they got there, several years later.

If you are in a senior-level role then you will no doubt work fairly long days, and if they are not long, then often they will be stressful – juggling team management responsibilities with your own project-driven workload. You take your work home with you and feel that you need to respond to queries as and when they arise otherwise, you’ll never get on top of the emails in your inbox. This all adds up to your ever-growing anguish.

If you are starting to feel burnt out, overworked or just over it, maybe it’s time to look at taking a career break. But before you do something drastic, ask yourself if it is just the company you work for, the job itself or even your colleagues that are the problem. These short TED talks might help you get some career perspective. If you are just burnt out, perhaps a holiday or a short sabbatical will do the trick.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is defined as a career break where you take an extended period of leave from your current job to pursue other interests, such as travelling, a new hobby or passion, or to work on self-improvement. The idea is that taking a sabbatical will give you the opportunity to change your environment and find a different perspective. This, in turn, could help renew your passion for your current career or give you the chance to explore a different direction altogether.

While some companies and enterprise agreements in Australia offer short career breaks, there’s no overarching legislation for a sabbatical — meaning, it’s up to you to decide what you need and how you’d like to go about it. You could either request leave without pay from your existing employer, framing it around needing to take a break to pursue other passions and interests, or even choose to leave your company completely. When you find yourself on the hunt for a new job, it’s always good to ask these potential future employers about their sabbatical policy and process.

Tips for taking sabbatical leave

A sabbatical can be incredibly rewarding for your career but it’s crucial to plan well ahead. Whether it’s in six months or a year, chances are you’ll want to return to work in some way, shape or form. To ensure it’s as smooth as possible, keep these tips in mind:

Be honest with yourself

There’s a difference between needing a long holiday, being unhappy with your employer and needing to completely reevaluate your career trajectory. Sit down and really think through the reasons for wanting a sabbatical before doing anything drastic. For example, if you’re unhappy with your current company, it’s worth checking out roles in other companies before choosing to take a sabbatical.

Be honest with your boss

This doesn’t mean being overt about your underlying dislike of your current role – if that is the case – but about the fact you feel you need to take a break. Citing the wish to travel, or feeling impending burnout, will often be met with understanding.

Have an objective

Why are you taking a sabbatical and what do you aim to achieve in that time away? Separately, what would you gain as a result? Make sure you have very clear goals to work towards during your time off to avoid wasting the opportunity.

Agree on expectations

You should have the terms of your sabbatical in writing but importantly, have transparent discussions with your boss about both of your expectations. This should include when you’ll be returning to work, what that will look like, and what happens if you decide not to return.

Don’t check out completely

Time off doesn’t mean dropping off the radar. If you lose touch, it’ll be harder to find your way back in or find new opportunities that interest you. Try to stay active on LinkedIn and keep in touch with colleagues, so you’re top-of-mind for any exciting projects or roles that come up.

Use your time productively

While it’s perfectly normal to use your sabbatical to take a genuine break from the world of work, it’s incredibly important to consider using this time to develop new skills or explore new avenues. This could be through upskilling and taking courses online or networking with like-minded professionals. This way, you have tangible outcomes to bring to the table when you return to work.

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