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Career Break Or Sabbatical? Tips to Make The Right Choice

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Almost everyone had that moment of hesitation at some point in their career, asking themselves, “Do I really need to hit the brakes?’. Whether you are overworked and want to take a break or have a desire to try something new, a career break or a sabbatical may be excellent options for you. 

Undoubtedly, taking a career break or a sabbatical may seem a daunting task at first. However, it can also be one of the best decisions you have ever made. Therefore, do not ignore your feelings.

This article will clarify the key difference between these notions and help you decide which one is right for you at this stage. 

Why do people need a sabbatical or career break? 

Unfortunately, burnout and work-related anxiety appear to be a workplace epidemic nowadays. According to recent research, workplace stress causes the U.S. additional expenditures of up to $190 billion per year.

While some other people can cope with excessive stress and anxiety right at the workplace, others need some time off work or event special treatment. Furthermore, some personalities are more exposed to suffering from work-related stress and, as a result, burnout

Following the Myers-Briggs type indicator, different personalities enjoy and thrive or stress out in entirely different circumstances and environments. Thus, ISFJs burn out when they’re unable to schedule efficiently, while ISTJs tend to feel burnt out when they do too much work. 

Therefore, a deep knowledge of your personality and adherence to your feelings is important for the decision of whether to take a sabbatical or a career break or not. 

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical, or more formally a sabbatical leave, is an extended break from work during which employees can pursue their interests,  research, volunteering, or other activities, while still being employed by the organization, yet not obliged to perform their normal job duties or report to work.

Traditionally offered to those in academic positions, originally, a sabbatical meant a temporary break from teaching. Nowadays, the term has penetrated almost all other industries. However, some corporations still offer a sabbatical as a benefit. In 2018, only 15% of employers were offered sabbaticals, though only 5% were offered paid sabbatical leave. 

Despite this, the advantages of a sabbatical are obvious. Employers have a chance to take their minds off the stress of their jobs and focus on what they love outside their work, at no risk to their future career and place in the company. 

How long is a sabbatical?

Naturally, the length of a sabbatical varies depending on the company type, industry, and company policy.  Usually, it lasts from two months to a year. Thus, universities typically offer a six-month or a year-long break, while private companies generally offer one or more months’ breaks depending on the employee’s years of service. There’s no minimum requirement, yet it’s usually at least 5 years.

Is sabbatical leave paid? 

Quite often, a sabbatical leave is paid. However, no such regulations or laws oblige an employer to do so. Therefore, organizations may stipulate that the employee is only entitled to a percentage of their pay, while others offer unpaid sabbatical leave. Furthermore, this decision can also depend on the reasons an employee is eager to take a sabbatical

How does a sabbatical work?

Usually, the employees who qualify for a sabbatical leave tend to agree on it with the management a couple of months in advance. The organization usually takes its time to consider the request and approve it if it meets the requirements. 

Besides, the company managers might need some time to make the reorganization within the team, make arrangements to replace that employee, or divide their work among other employees.

Many organizations have developed specific sets of rules and regulations on this matter. Traditionally, while on sabbatical, people are still officially employed by the organization. In other words, they remain bound by their organization’s policies, including harassment, confidentiality, data protection, etc. 

What is a career break? 

The notion of a career break or the ‘adult gap year’ also denotes an extended period away from work that could reach even years in length. This is an agreed period of time off from employment, either for familial reasons or for personal or professional development.

There are no specific laws that deal with career breaks. Therefore, this agreement is made between the employer and the employee personally. Thus, employers do not have to offer career breaks. However, if they do, the policy must be clearly laid out and should cover the following:

  • eligibility and notice periods
  • application procedure
  • lengths
  • return arrangements. 

In case of a career break, an employee can arrange to return to work after the break. However, these arrangements are not legally binding. Therefore, a career break may also mean ending the existing employment contract.

How long is a career break?

Usually, a career break is a period between two months and two years, although the most common is from six months to two years break. There is also an option of a mini career break for less than one month. It enables people to try out career break activities without committing to longer periods.

The more advanced you are in your career, the more challenging is the decision to take a career break. However, it’s not impossible at any career stage or age.

How does a career break work?

While taking a career break has its obvious pros and cons, it has some strict procedures to follow. Foremost, employees should start by shoring up their savings, as career breaks are usually unpaid. Besides, it is better to be sure whether you’d like to return to your position after a break or not. 

Having decided definitely to take a career break, one should give enough notice to the company management. At this stage, one should also think of an explanation for the future employers on a career gap on one’s resume. 

Key differences between sabbatical and career break

Naturally, the question arises: “How is a sabbatical different from a career break?” Let us proceed to outline the key differences that will help to make the right choice, particularly in your case: 

  1. While career breaks are generally unpaid, sabbaticals may be both paid or unpaid.
  2. A sabbatical is a break where you’re still employed but taking longer than a couple of weeks. Once a sabbatical is over, you return to your job.
  3. A career break most often requires resigning from your current job to explore a new career, relocate, or focus on rebuilding other aspects of your life.

A sabbatical and a career break have their specific features and benefits, depending on your current situation and motivation. 

Should you take a sabbatical or a career break?

Unfortunately, the number of people who have taken a deliberate career break remains low. In the past, Harvard Business Review stated that 37% of female “highly qualified professionals” and only 24% of males left their career at some point, most to return. 

Undoubtedly, the decision to take a sabbatical or career break is a thought one. Therefore, it requires a great deal of careful consideration and self-analysis.  If you’ve been feeling the itch to change your work yet still hesitate about which option is the best in your case, ask yourself the following questions to make the right choice. 

  • Why do I need an extended time off? 

One of the most important driving forces of the right choice is understanding your inner motivation. To take a sabbatical or a career break, make up your mind on why you want to do so. 

On the one hand, take a sabbatical if you want to: 

  • enhance your life experience and travel the world
  • work towards achieving some personal goals
  • learn new skills and develop additional competencies. 

On the other hand, you`d better take a career break if you`d like to: 

  • recover from a recent burn-out, reduce stress, and achieve work-life balance 
  • give it a shot and start your own business
  • stop working life for a few years to start a family.

Simple as it is, you need to see the roots of your wish to spend some time off to make the right choice. Based on a yes or no to these points, your final decision might be more straightforward. 

  • Does my company offer both a sabbatical and a career break? 

Sadly, only 15% of employers have a policy in place to offer their employees sabbaticals. Therefore, the very first step is to learn whether your company provides both of these options. If a sabbatical is off the table, the only option remains. 

Keep in mind that by making your choice in favor of a career break, you risk losing your salary at least for some time, as well as other benefits and insurance.  At the same time, only 5% of companies offer paid sabbaticals to their employees. 

  • How long am I going to be off? 

The amount of time you want to spend odd your regular duties is one of the key elements of the right choice. As long as a career break takes a longer period, it is also subject to the influence of some external factors like economic stability and job market tendencies. Besides, s career break presupposes a change of a career path

Therefore, taking a month or six months of paid sabbatical leave, makes you feel more secure about your future career.

  • Do I want to return to my job after a leave? 

As we noted earlier, one of the biggest differences between a sabbatical and a career leave is that during the latter, you remain employed. Thus, your position is available for you to walk in after having your time off work.

With a career break, you are resigning from your current role. Despite your plans to return to the future, it is still a resignation. If you are not sure yet if you’d like to return, it would be better to take a sabbatical and give yourself some time to think over and decide firmly. 

  • Am I OK with a career gap on my CV?

For many employees, a CV is the most important means to build their further careers and achieve goals. Therefore, having a gap on it might seem like a disaster. Even though the problem is not that serious, you’ll need to be ready to explain this gap in the interviews in the future.

The only way out is to choose a sabbatical over a career gap, as being on a sabbatical, you remain employed. With a career break, however, this isn’t the case. You’re technically resigning from your job.


A decision on the kind of break you need at the moment is a challenging task wish requires deliberation. The good news is that the secret to the right choice lies within being honest with yourself and understanding key differences between a sabbatical and a career break. 

Furthermore, you do not have to make this decision independently if you are too confused. But, even if you catch yourself second-guessing after the rounds of talking, we’d recommend opting for a sabbatical. It might be a safer option, considering that you get the desired time off work without making life-changing decisions.

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