Breaking the news on our sabbatical
One of the aspects of our sabbatical that we were most anxious about was breaking the news to our bosses and co-workers. How would they react? How would we be treated after breaking the news? Would we be fired on the spot (we didn’t think so, but couldn’t rule it out completely)?
I should start by saying that both of us really like our jobs and the companies we work for, as well as the people we work with. We have been at the same companies since graduation and we’ve put in 16 and 18 years of service. We’ve been very blessed to work in roles that have allowed us to make great use of our talents and as a result we’ve both built careers that most would consider successful.
To be clear, we’re not going on sabbatical because we don’t like our jobs, but we’re definitely looking forward to a complete break from work responsibilities that will allow us to fully recharge. This will be a respite that a one or two week vacation can’t provide, because even when on vacation we’re checking and responding to emails or feeling stressed about the work that is piling up while we’re out of the office. This break will allow us to fully re-energize so that we’re ready to get back to work in 2019 🙂
Timing is everything
We spent a lot of time thinking about when to break the news. We both wanted to give our bosses plenty of time to plan for the transition, and to help minimize the disruption by training our successors. The risk of breaking the news too early is that our companies could have decided to send us out the door way before we planned, but given that we have both been at our respective companies for many years we felt like that risk was pretty small.
Ultimately we both decided to give ample notice and we told our bosses around three months prior to our last day at work for 2018.
A range of reactions
Upon breaking the news to our coworkers we got a lot of reactions, and the vast majority have been positive. By far the most common have been something along the lines of “Wow, that’s awesome!“, “It is great that you can do that!“, “That will be an amazing trip your kids will always remember!”, etc. We have gotten great support from our bosses and co-workers, who have expressed willingness to help us manage the transition as we step away from our careers for a year.
The next major category of comments go something like “I wish we could do that!“, “I’m extremely jealous“, and “Maybe when I retire“. I’m not always sure how to respond to these. Some of the people that make these statements are likely being kind and wouldn’t really want to leave their comfortable lifestyle for a year of living out of backpacks. Others would probably genuinely like to do so but are held back by any number of reasons*. It is unfortunate that the work culture in our professions (and pretty much the country as a whole) is one in which taking a year off is practically unheard of, in large part due to the risk of wrecking one’s career. Instead the expectation is that people should work for 35 years or longer before earning the right to an extended break, and hopefully they’ll have made it to that point alive and in good enough health to fully enjoy their deserved retirement. Certainly there is nothing wrong with working without a break for decades until retirement but it shouldn’t have to be the only option.
We are sure many co-workers privately questioned our sanity but so far only one has actually come out and said it. A colleague with which I have a high level of trust expressed his concern to me in a conversation, confiding “your career is going great, are you sure you want to take this risk?” and “have you talked to anyone in upper leadership about this??”.
I really appreciated his genuine concern and his frankness. He said what a lot of people are thinking. And he was right; taking a sabbatical presents a major risk to our career advancement. But it is not a risk that we haven’t considered. Taking this break might mean that we don’t climb the corporate ladder as far or as fast as we might have otherwise. We almost certainly won’t have as healthy of a bank account as we would have if we kept working without a break (although we can always work longer when we come back if needed). We’ve weighed the cost and decided to move forward with our family sabbatical now because our window of opportunity to take this adventure is closing fast. If we wait until retirement our kids would be out of the house and living their own lives and we would not be able to take this adventure with them. Plus, there’s also no guarantee that we’ll make it to retirement age alive and healthy enough to travel around the world.
Do you have a great “breaking the news” story? What would you say to a coworker who announced they were taking a break (and what would you be thinking privately)? Please share 🙂