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  • Tamar Balkin

Is The Sabbatical A Furphy Or A Solution To Your Leadership Woes?


“I want to break free, I want to break free I want to break free from your lies You're so self-satisfied I don't need you I've got to break free God knows, God knows I want to break free”

I Want to Break Free by Queen (Click here for the song)



“When you consider the fact that many of us haven’t been able to take a long holiday in almost three years, it’s no wonder we’re desperate to rest and reset. But today, quitting and booking a trip or simply sucking it up aren’t our only options. More and more, workers are learning about the advantages of a different kind of leave: a sabbatical.”

Amy Campbell


Despite appearing incongruous with the current state of the economy, recent research indicates that workers outside of academia are increasingly embracing the concept of taking a "long vacation" or sabbatical.

Researchers have identified Three Different Types of Sabbaticals: Working holiday: These employees were pulled into the pursuit of passion projects, balancing intensive work periods with dedicated breaks for rest and rekindling long-neglected relationships. Free dives: These employees were enticed to seek out extraordinary travel adventures, potentially exposing themselves to the elements, health risks, and personal limitations. They alternated between recovery and exploring and focused on taking time to consider their values and aspirations. Quests: These employees felt pushed out of work by unsustainable expectations and toxic organizational cultures, typically they were exhausted and burned out. As the sabbatical progressed and their well-being began to improve, they were able to explore, travel, undertake non-routine work and test alternative careers. It is incumbent on every leader to look for early warning signs of burnout and facilitate changes before employees are pushed to the brink. (click here for my blog on Burnout)


“Now, when someone would ask, “But what will you do…?” I would smile and answer back, “My one goal is to achieve nothing." This always made them laugh, but how they responded was such a reflection of their values, not mine, and for the first time I was seeing this separately. I remember one friend, Julie, shaking her head chuckling, and saying, "Yes! Sorry. I know. I need to train myself to where every single thing doesn't have to be productive." We laughed together at our shared overzealous, obsession with efficiency, and the ways it has served us but also rob us of life’s joy.”

Erin Peavey


What are the benefits to the employee?

  • Reduced stress.

  • Improved psychological well-being and coping skills.

  • Re-adjusted work-life balance and changed perspective.

  • Acquisition of new skills, related to or non-related to primary career.

  • Establishment and strengthening of professional networks.

  • Diversified knowledge.

  • Enhanced compassion and strengthened relationships.

  • Greater confidence in team members and colleagues.

  • Improved appreciation of leisure.

  • Enhanced physical health.

What are the benefits to the employer?

  • Reduced risk of employee burnout and errors.

  • Enhanced employee retention.

  • Recruitment advantage.

  • Leadership development.

  • Improved decision-making and staff engagement.

  • Improved governance.

  • Enhanced capacity.

  • Introduction of new skills and technology.

  • Expanded professional networks.

  • Positive public relations.

  • Among these were revitalized leadership.

  • Improved governance.

  • More engaged boards and other leaders stepping up to compensate for the planned absence.

  • Enhanced capacity and depth of leadership team.

  • Improved delegation and task sharing among both staff and leaders.

  • Increases in succession options.

Those who took sabbaticals reported greater self-clarity and confidence in their leadership skills and were eager to step up. Further, those who filled in during the sabbatical-taker’s absence had their own experiences of self-discovery and could showcase hidden talents. The board and senior management team gained a better appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of different employees.


 “New networks, new experiences, new knowledge, new skills, shifted perspectives and other life-changing experiences are the fruits, if not the primary motives, for pursuing a sabbatical.”



What are the underlying mechanisms at play?

A sabbatical has been viewed historically as an opportunity for increasing resources and reducing demands. Researchers have found that taking a sabbatical from work can have significant benefits in terms of reducing stress and burnout. It has been observed that sabbaticals positively impact various aspects of subjective well-being, ranging from alleviating negative well-being to enhancing positive well-being. Moreover, these studies have highlighted that the degree of well-being improvement depends on the acquisition and preservation of resources. Additionally, a recent study has demonstrated that sabbatical leaves provide similar restorative effects as shorter breaks or respites. The increase in productivity following a sabbatical can be attributed to various factors. Firstly, the temporary boost in well-being experienced during the break holds the potential for higher future productivity. Realignment with personal values and purpose drives engagement and discretionary effort. Additionally, employees' expectations of improved performance upon returning to work can act as self-fulfilling prophecies, leading to an actual increase in performance.

How can a leader maximise the benefits of a sabbatical?


“The easiest moderator to manage is detachment: If you care about the well-being of your employees, when they go away for a respite, leave them alone!”

Davidson, Eden, Westman, Cohen-Charash, Hammer, Kluger, Krausz, Maslach, O'Driscoll, Perrewé, Quick, Rosenblatt, & Spector.


To ensure successful management of sabbatical transitions, it is crucial for leaders to:

  • Enable complete disconnection by appropriately redistributing the employee's responsibilities and ceasing email and mobile contact.

  • Maintain realistic and flexible constraints on what employees can do during their sabbatical.

  • Discuss compensation options, such as a company savings plan, to support employees during their time off.

  • Collaborate with the employee and their team to plan all aspects of the sabbatical.

  • Provide necessary resources to enable a diverse range of employees to take advantage of sabbaticals.

  • Alleviate fears by highlighting that sabbaticals are akin to secondments or parental leave in terms of resourcing.

  • Foster talent among other employees within the organisation.

To optimize the impact of a sabbatical, careful consideration, negotiation, and planning are essential during the employee's re-entry into the organisation. Returning employees often bring back renewed energy and a heightened sense of their potential contributions. The leader plays a crucial role in harnessing and/or curbing this enthusiasm, embracing fresh ideas, accommodating necessary job changes, and if appropriate offering diverse job opportunities.

So what can be done to improve employee well-being?


“Because most respite effects fade fast after the return to routine, we should seek moderators that might prolong respite effects after the respite ends.”

Davidson, Eden, Westman, Cohen-Charash, Hammer, Kluger, Krausz, Maslach, O'Driscoll, Perrewé, Quick, Rosenblatt, & Spector.


Regular readers would know that the long-term sustained behaviour change required to improve psychological well-being is difficult and complicated. Researchers have found that gains achieved in an “artificial” environment (on holiday) aren’t easily replicated in real life. According to a recent study, the positive impacts of sabbaticals tend to fade rapidly once individuals return to their regular routine, regardless of the activities they pursued during their time off. In addition, the existing body of research on sabbaticals has predominantly concentrated on the university sector, a sample that is not necessarily representative of other industries. Improving employee well-being, productivity, retention, job satisfaction, and motivation requires a multifaceted evidence-based approach. Identifying the aims and objectives of the initiative, and the measures of success will inform the most appropriate course of action. For an initiative to be successful it is critical that it is cost-effective, realistic, and focused on long-term sustained behaviour change. So just hit reply and tell me Are today’s leaders best equipped to undertake this task or is it the role of the independent external professional?


References and further information

Davidson, O. B., Eden, D., Westman, M., Cohen-Charash, Y., Hammer, L. B., Kluger, A. N., Krausz, M., Maslach, C., O'Driscoll, M., Perrewé, P. L., Quick, J. C., Rosenblatt, Z., & Spector, P. E. (2010, August 16). Sabbatical Leave: Who Gains and How Much?. Journal of Applied Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0020068 Ioppolo, B. and Wooding, S. (2023). How academic sabbaticals are used and how they contribute to research – a small-scale study of the University of Cambridge using interviews and analysis of administrative data. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2023]. Leung, J.G., Barreto, E.F., Nelson, S., Hassett, L.C. and Cunningham, J.L. (2020). The professional sabbatical: A systematic review and considerations for the health-system pharmacist. Research in Social and Administrative Pharmacy, [online] 16(12), pp.1632–1644. doi: American Association for Physician Leadership - Inspiring Change. Together. (n.d.). Sabbaticals: Antidote to Physician Burnout? | AAPL Publication. [online] Available at: [Accessed 28 Jun. 2023].


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