Money & Career

How to take a break from work

Author: Canadian Living

Money & Career

How to take a break from work

This story was originally titled "Homeward Bound" in the August 2008 issue. Subscribe to Canadian Living today and never miss an issue!

In my 20s I set out to be an academic, not the least reason being the lure of a sabbatical: The prospect of spending every seventh year abroad while keeping my job was heavenly. Apart from those of us working in the teaching profession, or for enlightened organizations, most people don't get the summer off, or the chance to spend serious time away from their jobs without losing their place in the corporate queue. Don't despair. You can jump off the treadmill and set things up to duplicate some of the stimulating benefits of six months in the south of France or a year in a Tuscan villa. (Well, almost.)

Take some time for yourself
Need an extra incentive? Consider that taking the time to recharge our mental batteries and expand our horizons is good for us – even if we can't pull up stakes to live in Singapore. As Elizabeth Church, a professor and psychologist in Halifax, says, "Taking a sabbatical is a chance to refocus your energy and unclutter your life."

Even though you're tied to your job and family duties, the goal of an at-home sabbatical is to reflect about the way you live and see your world. It's not like taking a trip to Florida or spending a day at the spa – rather, it involves changing your routine and replacing habits with some of the experiences you'd have during a year abroad, where you might be exposed to new acquaintances, languages, foods, landscapes and schedules. The best part? "With willpower some of the significant changes you make during your hometown sabbatical will be maintained over the long haul," says Terri Giosia, a life coach in Montreal. Here's our 12-step program to set you on course.

1. Psyche yourself up
"Women in particular find it hard to let go and say no," says Giosia. You may have to pep-talk yourself into it and grant yourself permission to take your at-home sabbatical. To truly detach, you'll have to be strong-willed and disciplined – and don't let other people's agendas weaken your resolve.

2. Serve notice
Decide on the length of your "leave" and set a departure date, just as if you were really off for a year in India. "Let your friends and relatives know your intention of taking an at-home sabbatical and why it's important to you," says Giosia. Maybe you'll have to temporarily resign from a committee, opt out of a carpool for a time or put aside your volunteer efforts every week. Be mindful that you're not copping  out – you're investing in yourself. Tell friends you're going to be out and about more and will be responding to nonessential home e-mails and telephone messages less frequently.

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3. Unclutter your world
List all the things you do in your current life that you'd like to do less. Too much community work? Toxic friends? A heavy home reno or cleaning agenda? Throwing birthday dinners for everyone in your extended family? List the commitments you wouldn't do if you were, for example, living in a small rented flat in Paris, such as redoing the bathroom tiles or having telephone conversations with your mother-in-law about her health into the wee hours of the night. Offset these with some of the new things you would be doing in the City of Lights (people-watching, window-shopping, wining and dining). The equation is simple: Factor out the blah moments in your current routine and replace them with some of those you'd really look forward to abroad.
4. Do the shuffle
Shuffle time and money around. You might decide to hire a babysitter one night a week for the next couple of months and take your sabbatical that way. You may have to give up the money you spend on a club membership or entertaining to fund nights out and dinners in ethnic restaurants. Keep asking yourself, What kinds of things would I be doing during a year away?

5. Vary your routine
"Instead of having coffee at your desk each morning, leave home a little early and read a different newspaper over a latte in a coffee bar," says Scott Wooding, a family psychologist in the Calgary area. Try going to bed an hour later or getting up an hour earlier and use the time alone to keep a journal of your time away, or perhaps to work your way through Shakespeare's plays or reread your favourite novels.
6. Go ethnic
Take a course in flamenco dancing or try cooking Middle Eastern dishes (served up to the tune of Arabic hand drums). If art is your interest and France is the land you'd choose for a real sabbatical, try taking a virtual tour of the Louvre on the Internet with a glass of Bordeaux in hand and Edith Piaf singing "La Vie en Rose" in the background. A course in European art could also enhance your sabbatical feel. Many can be done online.

7. Out and about

Even if you have no particular country in mind, wherever you land you'd likely be hitting the city streets a lot more. Divert some of your weekly pizza delivery money into restaurant dining. Buy a season's theatre ticket and make a point of talking to fellow drama patrons at intermission. "Actively pursue new acquaintances and friendships, which can have an energizing effect," says Shirley Vollett, a life and relationship coach in North Vancouver.

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8. Be a legal alien
Stop taking your town for granted. Check out the sights around you. If you live in or near a big city, hop on a tour bus and see it through a visitor's eyes. Even the smallest town has some history behind it; visit its oldest buildings, churches, synagogues and museums. Take a day trip to nearby destinations of interest, just as you'd hop the train to Versailles from Paris.

9. Same but different
If weekends usually find you biking with the kids, try a quiet walk one Saturday through some public gardens that you haven't explored (or at least  not in ages), stopping to enjoy the sights and smells. Attend a different church in another part of town, too – perhaps one whose parishioners come from a different background than you. And while you're at it, unhook from that weekly trip to the local supermarket. Shop in another part of town at smaller food stores. 

10. Let some things lie fallow
If your annual summer project is to redo a room or stain the deck furniture, skip it one time around. Are your flowerbeds and lawns dominating all your free time and spare cash from May to October? The time, energy and money that will be liberated from giving them up could benefit restaurant dining with friends, day trips, cabaret shows and live theatre.

11. Reroute
OK, so you have figured out the shortest possible commute from home to work. It's time to find a new, more scenic route and take it a couple of times a week. Even better, walk it. Take a commuter train or bus to the end of the line just for the heck of it and explore whatever neighbourhood you find there.

12. Trade spaces
If you're feeling ambitious, see if you can swap homes with someone for a few months. If you can't swing that, switch your bedroom to another part of the house or even move your bed to a new location in your room, so you wake up to a different view.

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How to negotiate a sabbatical
You're long overdue for an extended break from the corporate world but  have only three weeks of holidays a year and no medical needs to attend to. What's a working gal to do? Approach your boss with a plan. Sarah Beech, managing principal of Hewitt Associates' HR Consulting Services in Canada, offers sometips for negotiating time off.

• Put a fair amount of thought into what you want
before you set up your meeting so you can answer any questions and present a good case.

• Pick your timing.
Don't spring it on your employer. If you want to take a two-month sabbatical in the fall, give them as much notice as possible. Word to the wise: It's best not to broach the topic when the company is  short-staffed or in the midst of layoffs.

• State your plan,
including why you think you could use the time off, how you have earned it, what you plan to do with it (travel, take courses, de-stress with some time to yourself, spend more time with your kids, etc.) and what the merits are to the organization, such as you'll return recharged or you'll be spending time in a country that the company does business with and you will come back more familiar with the culture and language.

• Suggest how your workload may be handled
in your absence.

• Promote yourself.
Tell your boss why you think you are an asset worth keeping and have examples of great work you have done.

A sabbatical: Do you qualify?
You're eager to take some time off from your job and an at-home sabbatical won't do – it's got to be the real deal. You may be in luck. Sarah Beech, managing principal of Hewitt Associates' HR Consulting Services in Canada, says more organizations are offering extra time off beyond regular vacation days to their employees. A survey by the firm conducted in 2006 shows that:

• Forty-four per cent of Canadian companies that participated in the study offer an unpaid sabbatical. That number is expected to jump to 58 per cent by 2009.

• An additional 12 per cent of companies offer paid sabbaticals – a figure that Hewitt Associates says will increase to 20 per cent by 2009. Sweet deal.

"Companies don't want to lose employees who have been with the organization for some time because they are at a point in their lives where they want to spend more time with their family, get a degree or travel extensively and are willing to come back to work afterward," says Beech. While sabbaticals are now available to employees at workplaces as diverse as law firms, high-tech companies and pharmaceutical manufacturers, Beech says they're usually for those who have been with the organization for about 10 years and are strong performers – newbies and slackers need not apply.

If the sabbatical bug has bitten, talk to your manager or human resources department; you may be pleasantly surprised at your options. 
- by Kathryn Dorrell

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Money & Career

How to take a break from work