Sabbaticals—extended breaks from routine work with the purpose of seeking rest, recovery and renewal—are increasingly common among professionals in the United States. Many of those who take a sabbatical report that it was much more than a break from work, but in fact was a life-changing experience. We wanted to explore sabbaticals to gain insights into what might make them life-changing. Through a qualitative study grounded in narrative inquiry, we found that a major revision of a person’s personal and work identities seemed to be the essence of the profound experiences our participants reported. We provide a preliminary conceptual framework of the process our participants undertook as they journeyed through this major identity change. We then draw theoretical insights into the major identity work tasks that they undertook, and propose how their sabbaticals appeared to created an identity workspace that was conducive to this major identity revision.
We found that sabbaticals were much more than a respite from work, they were, in fact, life-changing, identity-changing experiences. Rest, restoration and recovery were important experiences during our participants’ sabbaticals but these experiences were a necessary prelude to the most important aspects of sabbatical. What made sabbaticals one of the most meaningful experiences our participants have ever had was the deep identity work they were able to undertake during their sabbatical. Sabbaticals seemed to create an identity workspace that supported and facilitated significant revisions in our participants’ personal identity which in turn facilitated crafting a new provisional work identity they would take back with them. These identity changes were followed by our participants engaging in a very different way of living and working after they returned from their sabbatical.
Our findings offer four insights that enhance existing research on sabbaticals and identity work. We discuss each in the following section:
We found that sabbaticals can have profound implications for individuals’ personal and work-related identities which, in turn, may have profound implications for their wellbeing at work, and in life. Sabbaticals are a “peak life experience” that provide an identity workspace for transitions, healing, discovery and growth. Our study provides a preliminary conceptual framework for understanding the process by which sabbaticals led to this outcome, and this framework may be useful for guiding future research on how individuals may benefit from such long-term separations from work.
Research Team: Kira Schabram, Matt Bloom and DJ DiDonna
Despite the apparent benefits of sabbaticals, more research is needed to better understand the immediate and long-term impacts of sabbatical policies on employees and on the companies offering these policies.
To this end, we would like to examine the effects of sabbaticals on:
We are looking to work with organizations to conduct research including:
Our team is looking to collaborate with leading organizations to evaluate the impact of sabbaticals.
Research Team: Laura Giurge, Postdoctoral Research Fellow at London Business School, and DJ DiDonna.
Interested in studying the impact of extended leave on your company? Reach out to our team to design an evaluation that makes sense for your organization.