I’m excited to take my first four-week sabbatical at work and could use some guidance on how to best utilize this paid time off. Elaine Varelas guides on how to make this time off meaningful.

Sabbaticals are a wonderful workplace benefit. Elaine Varelas provides guidance on things to consider when planning your sabbatical and how to maximize your time off.

Q:  I’ve been with my company five years and am now eligible for a paid 4-week sabbatical.  As this will be my first ever sabbatical, how do I maximize my time to make it meaningful and rewarding?

A: Lucky you! Five years on the job and getting a four-week paid sabbatical is an amazing benefit and recognizing that it takes planning to make it meaningful and rewarding is a smart way to go.  Are there are any requirements for you to report back to your employer on how you used your time, what you learned that will either make you a better employee, or help your colleagues become enlightened in any way, personally or professionally?  If yes, then this becomes part of the plan. 

If not, then this time becomes your own and you can decide how to spend every minute. When you talk about it making it meaningful and rewarding, each of us has a separate definition of what that is and so working on what that definition is for you is going to be your top priority.  Does meaningful and rewarding mean four weeks of travel to faraway lands? Does it mean four separate adventures? Does it mean taking the time and opportunity to learn something new? Does it mean volunteering for a worthwhile cause near or abroad? Does it mean taking on a physical challenge, such as running a marathon, climbing a mountain, or taking a hiking or biking adventure? Recognize that each one of us will define this differently and be delighted with our own selection.

I would encourage you to talk to other people who have been able to use this benefit at your organization and learn from them as you research and plan your time. Find out what they loved about what they did, what they wish they had done differently, and whether they came away feeling like they had maximized their time. You might also get some ideas and inspiration by reading articles such as 18 Sabbatical Ideas: Enriching Ways To Spend Your Break or The Ultimate Guide to Taking a Sabbatical.  YouTube also has numerous planning videos.

You will need to decide whether your sabbatical is something that you will do on your own or if it is something that you will do with friends or family. Is it something that only you will decide to do with no compromises about how you will spend your time? That will play a significant impact on whether at the end of the four weeks you have no regrets. 

This time is like one’s transition into a planned retirement. This entirely open time can be both exciting and frightening, particularly with no guardrails. Will you focus this time on relaxation or will that start to feel like time wasted? Will you be 100% on the go for four weeks and will that mean you will need a vacation following your sabbatical? In a fulfilling retirement, people focus on health, spirituality, education, financial, community, family, travel, etc. You can decide how you want to balance your time off among these or whether you want to focus on just one or two during your time off.  The end goal for you in your planning is to have a meaningful and rewarding sabbatical and return to work refreshed and rejuvenated with stories to tell, pictures to share or at least amazing memories.


This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on