Ask the grumpies: Do sabbaticals work?

First Gen American asks:

Do sabbaticals work? If someone is burnt out, does it really help light the fire back under your butt by getting a break?

In my experience, yes!

Though coming back after is always difficult.  I tend to be more relaxed and get less done until I get overloaded and burned out again.  And thus the cycle continues.

But the best thing about sabbaticals is breaking all the service ties and usually it takes a little bit for those to get rebuilt.  (Envisioning Gulliver in Lilliput right now as a metaphor.)

I don’t have any experience with non-academic sabbaticals.  I don’t think unemployment spells are really the same thing at all.

Grumpy Nation– Do Sabbaticals Work?


12 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: Do sabbaticals work?”

  1. Coree Says:

    I’m hoping for a strategically timed sabbatical to break the cycle of teaching my least favourite class? I think I’m pretty good in the classroom but a giant lecture theatre (first years only) just kills my soul.

  2. First Gen American Says:

    Part of me wants to take a break because some weeks I’m so burnt out, but then I worry I won’t be able to rev back up to the insane pace that I’m used to operating at. I’ve never had a break in employment so I have no idea what that would be like.

  3. Jenny F. Scientist Says:

    I have only observed them from the outside, but it certainly allowed my spouse to reset his work and research priorities. Also he was the Default Parent all year and I very much enjoyed NOT being that last year. (Beginning of the year quote: “I just can’t get any work done when the children are all home.” *hostile stare from me*)

  4. economiss Says:

    I had a sabbatical spring 2022. It was life changing. I was totally burnt out by the end of fall 2021, fighting students over university-required covid precautions, dealing with students who were complete unengaged and battling all kinds of mental health struggles, a home life with kids struggling with the same, and a ridiculous level of service commitments. I was super productive in my sabbatical (which actually wasn’t my goal). I aimed to be moderately productive, but enjoyed my work, and the bandwidth freed by not teaching or doing service was shocking. I returned to the classroom reinvigorated. It’s been hard to find the rhythm for research since returning (the productivity folks are right, we need empty time for deep thinking, and my teaching/service load does not afford much), but I only regret not taking one sooner. It was my first in more than a decade, and I was already fully promoted. I have become the biggest salesperson for sabbaticals at my school, continuously encouraging my colleagues to JUST DO IT.

  5. xykademiqz Says:

    I have had two sabbaticals so far and neither worked as designed. During the first one I had a newborn (born in late June) and organized a major conference (the following June), so the whole year was childcare and conference organization and research. I was pretty exhausted.

    My second sabbatical might’ve worked as designed but then the pandemic hit and any restfulness gains I might’ve achieved in the fall got obliterated in the spring of 2020.

    So I am perpetually exhausted. Service and admin have gotten considerably worse in recent years, IMHO. I feel the burden of bullshit work as soon as the semester starts. I honestly don’t mind teaching or working with grad students and junior faculty, but meetings on policy and various time-wasting initiatives and similar shit really make me wanna blow my brains out. We have a department chair who is very effective in working with upper administration, but so damn bureaucracy-happy (that’s what happens when a smart person is not given enough intellectual stimulation — they become a fuckin’ nuisance).

    Anyway, back to the topic. I am having high hopes for my sabbatical starting in 2026. (insert exasperated emoji here)

  6. CG Says:

    Everyone in every job should be allowed to take sabbaticals. If your job allows it, do it! I had a sabbatical during covid and even with the stress of that and even with three children doing school (sort of) at home it was still great for me. I was also super productive, shockingly, given everything going on, and it set me up well for promotion to full. So that reduced my stress over the next year or so. And then just getting out of the grind of teaching and service was hugely beneficial for my mental health. I got to organize my time how I wanted to (well, until my children and spouse all started working from home), exercise a lot, and do that deep thinking that @economiss mentions. When I came back, I felt better able to generate the energy I needed to do a good job teaching. The service situation is still untenable because of our department size and structure, but hopefully as our junior people move up that will get better.

    We are eligible for a one-semester sabbatical after every six semesters of teaching, or a year sabbatical after 12 semesters of teaching. I tell our junior faculty to take them as often as they are eligible because they are just so valuable for getting good work done but also recharging.

    Now, if you take a sabbatical and you come back and right away you feel just as burned out, well, that tells you something important about your job. And that is valuable, too. So I see little to no downside risk of taking the sabbatical.

    • coveredbridgegenealogy Says:

      “Everyone in every job should be allowed to take sabbaticals.” This! I have been working and/or in college since I was 17. I need a break.

  7. delagar Says:

    Before my sabbatical I was sure I would never want to retire. “I’ma die in the classroom,” I used to say. My sabbatical convinced me that I would like to retire as soon as possible, please. It was just so nice to have hours and hours and hours in which to write, read, and think.

  8. Revanche @ A Gai Shan Life Says:

    We’re about to find out! PiC will be taking a non academic sabbatical this spring. I have no idea how it’ll go, we’ve not had one of these with no specific plans before. Personally, I imagine I just wouldn’t want to go back. I am curious whether things like 401k matches continue as normal.

    Will share once we have the experience!

  9. SP Says:

    As mentioned, T is doing an academic sabbatical starting this fall, and I’m doing… well, I’m not sure what. I guess an unpaid sabbatical most likely, or maybe some work if I can figure that out. I’ll report back in 2024.

    I also really agree with this “Everyone in every job should be allowed to take sabbaticals.” Wouldn’t that be amazing?

  10. loribeth61 Says:

    I had a friend who worked for one of the provincial governments here in Canada… she had a portion of her salary set aside from every paycheque, and then every few years, she could take a PAID sabbatical. I remember she extended her first maternity leave (back in the early 1990s) by an extra 6 months by using her sabbatical. In the early 2000s, she had another 6-month sabbatical. She bought a camper van & spent the summer months driving right across Canada, from east to west (and then back again, partially through the northern U.S.), with her two daughters, who were about 11 & 14 at the time. What an experience!! I would have LOVED to do something like that!

    The company I worked for did begin offering sabbaticals towards the end of the time I worked there, but the criteria was not particularly clear, and the only people I heard about who got to take them were top executives. (eyeroll) One woman (an executive vice-president) was off for several months, moving her elderly mother from the east coast to Toronto and getting her settled in.

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