Sabbatical or career break: which is right for you

Mar 16, 2023

Ever had that moment where you think to yourself, "I really need to hit the brakes"? Maybe you're overworked. Or you want new opportunities. Or you have a sudden itch to go surfing for two months, no questions asked. But that 9-5 job is in the way.

First things first: don't ignore that feeling! It's natural to want a break once in a while. But when it's so pervasive that you can't go through a day of work without thinking, "I need a loooong break", you need more than a check-in. You need a sabbatical. Or a career break. Hold up — which one is which, again?

As much as the world likes to exchange the terms "sabbaticals" and "career breaks", they have their differences. Understanding them will help you make the right choice — and we're all about that!

The key difference between sabbaticals and career breaks

A sabbatical is a break from work where you're still employed but are taking longer than a couple of weeks off to explore new opportunities, travel or study. That means, once your sabbatical ends, you can return to your job and pick up from where you left off.

A career break is also an extended recess from work where you might explore a new career, shift your home base, or focus on rebuilding other aspects of your life. But unlike a sabbatical, a career break involves resigning from your current job — which is precisely what many people want!

So how do you decide which option is the best for you?

Sabbatical vs career break: Underlying motivation

The first step is to understand why you want a sabbatical or a career break. Perhaps you love your job or line of work but are overwhelmed with your daily tasks? Or maybe you want to reassess your priorities while still holding on to the safety net? You might enjoy a sabbatical.

If you've been feeling the itch to change your line of work or shudder at the thought of working at your job for a long time, a career break might be more suited for your needs.

We'd advise you to ask yourself if you look forward to returning to your job when your break is over. Based on a yes or no, your final decision might be more straightforward!

Sabbatical vs career break: Company policy

The next step is to find out whether your place of work offers either one or both of these options. Despite the obvious benefits of sabbaticals, not too many workplaces provide them.

But we don't need to be Debbie Downers about that because more and more workplaces of today have one significant benefit: they listen to their employees. That means if you think you need a sabbatical, it's a great idea to bring it up with your manager or HR team! The more we take sabbaticals, the more they're normalised, and the better our policies are for it.

If a sabbatical is off the table, then a career break might be your only option. We'd urge you to consider the ramifications of taking a career break in place of a sabbatical, such as:

  • The inevitable gap in your CV

  • The loss of salary from this particular job

  • The loss of other benefits such as insurance and hardware

Sabbatical vs career break: Duration

Understanding how long you want time off work will help you make the right decision, faster. For instance, your manager might offer you a sabbatical leave for a month or six months. If you know that's good enough for you, you're golden! That break will (hopefully) leave you refreshed and ready to get back to the swing of things at work.

Career breaks are often much longer, extending for a year or more. A career break may lead you down new paths. They're also subject to external factors, such as the current job market and economic stability. If even six months off work doesn't sound ideal, you might want to consider a career break.

Still unsure about a sabbatical vs a career break?

Deciding on the kind of break you’re looking for is tricky and requires a lot of deliberation. But the good news is that you don’t have to make these decisions by yourself if you’re confused. You can start by speaking to a trusted colleague, a friend or a family member. When you understand what you want to do overtime, you can take it one step further by discussing it with your team lead or manager.

If, even after rounds of talking, you catch yourself second-guessing, we’d recommend opting for a sabbatical. It might be a safer option considering that you get to take a break without having to make life-changing decisions. Once you’ve decided to take the plunge, you’ll learn over time whether the sabbatical is working or you need a career break more. Sabbaticals and career breaks can be a great learning experience and help you maximise any new skills you learnt over time.

Until then, trust yourself to make the right decision!

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