How to take a sabbatical as an agency owner

A lake with clouds for a blog on how to take a sabbatical as an agency owner

The UK is at risk of becoming ‘burnt-out nation’ according to Mental Health UK, with rising levels of people out of work due to long-term sickness. As a business owner, the thought of taking a sabbatical may seem daunting and unrealistic. However, a sabbatical can also be a good opportunity for a much-needed rest, offering a fresh perspective and generating a renewed passion for your business. In this guide on how to take a sabbatical as an agency owner we walk you through the steps needed to plan and implement, plus how to return, without jeopardising the health of your business.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is typically classed as an extended period away from work, organised and agreed upon by employees and the employer. A sabbatical can vary in length but is generally longer than the regular period of annual leave. Depending on the circumstances and the business, they can last from anywhere between two months and a year. They are also used for both personal and professional development.

The benefits of taking a sabbatical

There are numerous benefits for business owners in taking a sabbatical, and those who have taken them advise defining the purpose of it as a first step. Just some of those reasons include:

  • Preventing burnout: a sabbatical is a good way to avoid burnout, recharge and reduce stress.
  • Offering a fresh perspective: stepping away from the day to day operations can offer new insights. Whether you choose to travel or take time out to learn new skills, stepping away will allow you to return with a new perspective.
  • Empowering your team: providing a great opportunity for your team to step up and grow in their roles.
  • To learn a new skill: taking time away from your business to do something completely different.

How to take a sabbatical as an agency owner – planning and steps to take

  1. Set Clear Goals

Determine the purpose of your sabbatical. Are you looking to rest and recharge, learn a new skill, or focus on personal projects? Clear goals will help shape your sabbatical and keep you on track.

  1. Choose the Right Time

Identify a period when your business experiences a natural slowdown. Avoid peak seasons or critical times when your presence is most needed.

  1. Prepare Your Team

Communicate your plans to your team well in advance. Explain the reasons for your sabbatical and how it will benefit the business in the long run. Transparency is key to gaining their support and buy-in during the process. Don’t forget, that team members could feel unsettled and anxious about the thought of the business without you in it for a significant amount of time. A clear comms plan needs to be drawn up and executed.

  1. Delegate Responsibilities

Assign key tasks and responsibilities to trusted team members. Provide necessary training and resources to ensure they are well-prepared. Create a clear chain of command to handle decisions in your absence.

  1. Develop a Contingency Plan

Anticipate potential challenges and develop a contingency plan. Identify who will handle emergencies and outline procedures for critical issues. This will give you peace of mind while you’re away.

Implementing the sabbatical

Once the planning stage is done, the next stage is start implementing the sabbatical.

  1. Communicate with stakeholders

Inform clients, partners, and other stakeholders about your sabbatical. Assure them that the business will continue to operate smoothly and provide contact details for the team members handling their accounts.

  1. Set boundaries

Decide on your level of availability during the sabbatical. Will you check emails periodically, or will you completely disconnect? Communicate your availability to your team and stakeholders to set clear expectations.

  1. Trust your team

Once your sabbatical begins, trust your team to manage the business. Resist the urge to micromanage and allow them to make decisions. This trust will help with their growth and demonstrate your confidence in their abilities.

  1. Focus on your goals

Stay committed to the purpose of your sabbatical. Whether it’s rest, learning, or personal projects, make the most of this time. Avoid getting drawn back into business matters unless absolutely necessary.

Returning from your sabbatical

The end of your sabbatical is just the beginning of a new chapter for you and your business. So how do you go about returning to work after being away, and ensure minimal disruption to your team, but also implement new learnings or developments?

  1. Gradual transition

Ease back into your role gradually. Take time to catch up on developments and understand any changes that occurred in your absence. This will help you reintegrate smoothly. It will also minimise disruption to how the team has been working in your absence.

  1. Acknowledge your team

It’s important to take the time to recognise and appreciate the efforts of your team during your absence. Acknowledge their successes and address any challenges they faced. This will reinforce their value and contributions, help with motivation and their development.

  1. Reflect and implement

Reflect on the insights and experiences gained during your sabbatical. Identify ways to incorporate these into your business strategy. Whether it’s new ideas, improved processes, or personal growth, use your sabbatical learnings to drive positive change.

  1. Maintain a work-life balance

A sabbatical can highlight the importance of work-life balance. Strive to maintain a healthier balance moving forward. Implement strategies to prevent burnout and ensure you continue to thrive both personally and professionally. Can these be applied to your team too?

Common challenges of taking a sabbatical

We know that taking a sabbatical isn’t without its challenges. It’s not always plain sailing and there can be hiccups along the way.

  1. Worries about the business and performance

Worrying about business decline is natural. However, proper planning and delegation can mitigate this risk. Trust in your team’s abilities and focus on the long-term benefits of your sabbatical.

  1. Letting go

As a business owner, letting go of the reigns can be difficult.  Start by gradually delegating responsibilities before your sabbatical. This will build your confidence in your team’s capabilities whilst you’re away.

  1. Financial concerns

Consider the financial impact of your sabbatical. Plan your finances accordingly, ensuring there’s a cushion to cover potential shortfalls. Additionally, explore passive income streams or temporary cost-cutting measures to ease the burden.

Issues to consider if a member of staff wants to take a sabbatical

If you offer sabbaticals to your employees, here are few things you may want to consider:

  • Who qualifies? Be sure to define the eligibility for fairness and reflect this in your company policies.
  • Consider which benefits will remain during sabbatical leave (for example, staff discounts, company car, subscriptions etc).
  • Clarify continuous service. Usually the contract remains in force, which means that the employee’s continuity of service is preserved. During unpaid sabbatical leave the contract of employment often does not remain in force.

Examples of sabbaticals

There are many reasons to take a sabbatical. Here are a few examples from our clients:

  • Tech business owner

The business owner, a tech entrepreneur, took a six-month sabbatical to travel and study emerging technologies. During this time, the team handled daily operations, and the owner returned with innovative ideas that could then drive the business forward.

  • Marketing agency owner

Running a marketing agency, the owner took a three-month sabbatical to focus on personal health and wellness fearing they were nearing burn-out. The team managed the agency and clients effectively, and the owner returned with renewed energy and a fresh perspective. This also resulted in the owner implementing a wellbeing strategy for all staff, having taken the time to recognise and tackle the symptoms of burnout.

  • PR agency founder

The founder took a year-long sabbatical to write a book and indulge in their love of writing. The team took over client projects, and the founder returned with a published book that enhanced their reputation and brought in new business opportunities.

With careful planning, effective delegation, and a focus on your goals, you can embark on a sabbatical that rejuvenates you and strengthens your business. A well-executed sabbatical can lead to personal growth, fresh perspectives, and a thriving business.

Remember, a sabbatical is not an escape, but a strategic move towards long-term success and well-being. Start planning today and embrace the transformative power of a well-deserved break.

Written by:

Sian Whittington
As a fully CIPD qualified HR Consultant, Sians broad experience includes organisation design and development, talent planning, performance and reward, employee engagement, employee relations, HR compliance and HR information systems.