How to plan & afford a sabbatical

Can extended time-off be the answer to workplace burnout and the Great Resignation? It seems to be the option for Ryan Reynolds, who recently announced he’s taking a break from filming for year to recoup and tend to other projects.

I weighed in with BT Television with tips on how you too can ask for a sabbatical from your employer and how it can fuel the next phase of your career. We explored what to ask your employer and how to work with co-workers to ease the burden on the team, to how to spend your sabbatical advancing your career, and how to set up your finances so you can afford to live while you recharge. Catch the segment here.

How is a sabbatical different from a vacation?

Unlike a vacation, a sabbatical is an extended break from work.  Many employers offer paid, mandatory vacay time.  A sabbatical is generally a company perk though, not a right and generally unpaid.

A survey (pre-COVID) of 7,500 full time employees found that 2/3rds are feeling burned out on the job.  Surprisingly, 70% of workers want to get away for a few months but only 5% think they’ll actually do it.

What are the mental health benefits?

A short vacay can give you a boost, but a sabbatical can stave off burn out.

  • Some benefits include:
    • Prioritizing your wellbeing.  If you’re suffering from anxiety, panic attacks and work related stress, the time off can reset your well being (eating right, developing an exercise plan, clearing out your mind)
    • Deal with burn out before it escalates.  Dealing with full out depression or an anxiety disorder after the fact causes much more harm that proactively tackling your mental health.

 How can this help your career in the long-run?

Gaining a new perspective isn’t only helpful for you, it can increase your company’s bottom line.

Renewing your enthusiasm for your work can sustain the marathon a life time career requires.  Who wouldn’t want to feel good about Monday mornings again?  Extended time away leads to greater appreciation for your career and position.

Many people fully intend to work for their entire life – just not at the job or career they currently have.  A sabbatical allows you to explore different lines of work that you may turn into an encore career at retirement.

How to ask this of your employer and team?

Talk to your boss and HR department.  Does your company offer a sabbatical?  You might be pleasantly surprised.  Some companies offer as much as four weeks paid for five years of service and up to six weeks for fifteen years or more of service. 44% of Canadian companies offer unpaid sabbaticals.

Timing is key.  A the world still struggles with COVID/lock down’s/opening up, although now might not be the ideal time for your sabbatical, planning for it with your employer can give you the strength to go on knowing your break is in sight.  Do your fellow team members also desire an extended break in the future?  Talk openly with your boss, team and co-workers.  If a sabbatical is possible and available for everyone, then it can be for you too.

Advanced conversations.  Will your role still be available when you return? Is the team in support of your absence or will you likely have to consider a career move when you return?

What if your only option is an unpaid sabbatical?

Know your numbers and do a lot of advanced financial planning.  Will you be able to financially rebound when you return?  How much are your actual expenses and do you have enough to cover them while you’re off?  Do you have dependents and if you’re planning on extended travel, who will care for them?  And consider how your retirement will be affected.

Will you need to take on new debt and if so, can you afford to pay it back when you return?  Will you deplete your emergency savings and if so, what’s your plan for replenishing it and by what date?

As much as leaving your career might set you back temporarily, think also about the cost of burn out.  If you get so stressed at work that you can’t perform and are forced to leave, what will that cost you in the long run?

Lastly, consider the benefit of taking time off to advance your skill acquisition.  How could the lost income actually be a long-term financial investment?


If you've taken a sabbatical or are considering one, I'd love to hear your story!  Please drop me a line at