Why You Should Take a Sabbatical as a Startup Founder


While in the midst of setting up a startup where you are most likely working night and day, it may seem crazy to take a sabbatical. This is because you are seemingly walking away temporarily from something that would need your round-the-clock attention. However, what I learned was that it was the best thing I could have done.

Why take a sabbatical?

When you love what you do, it seems like you wouldn’t want to step away from it. However, if you don’t take a break from what you are passionate about, you will burn out. Since living in America, I have remained astounded by the lack of holiday time taken by those who work in traditional jobs. Even worse are those who work for themselves. Since freelancers and others don’t get paid vacation, they are even less likely to take a day off. There just seems to be this overriding opinion that taking time off from working is akin to laziness here.

In England, you get five weeks of paid holiday as standard practice in your first year with any job, and that even includes working in the fast food business. Those who own their own business also take time off. Companies willingly let their employees take their holiday time in one go, typically in the summer when the workflow is slower. It’s commended and encouraged.

The problem with not taking time off is that not only will you end up eventually despising your job, but you will also not be good to anyone. Your quality, creativity and productivity will plummet. That includes your own business.

While you might be able to convince yourself to let a weekend go for family fun time, you may still be struggling with the idea of a sabbatical where you step away for a month or more at a time with no active participation in work. In that period, you can learn some new skills, travel the world and discover different perspectives, volunteer for another organization to satisfy your need to help others, or just decompress and focus on anything but work, like a hobby or that novel you always wanted to write. In that time away from what you have been thinking about all the time, you may have many “aha” moments where you discover the solution to a problem that daily meditation alone does not uncover.

Your sabbatical will also help your business and those who work with you because they will grow and develop by taking the lead while you are away. They will be put in situations they hadn’t previously experienced due to your presence and control. It will be a positive experience for all involved.

Making a sabbatical possible while running a startup

Your business will go on, and it will be fine without you. I did worry the first time I went on a sabbatical, but then I found a strategy that works and that has allowed me to regularly take extended breaks over the years where I refuel my energy and creativity while my businesses continue to thrive. Here’s how:

–Prepare your team. Communicate well in advance of your sabbatical about your plans with the rest of the team so they can get their heads around what they will be doing while you are gone. Include details on the departure and return to help frame your time away.

–Be transparent. Share the reason why you are taking a sabbatical so they have a context for it and are not worried about what it means for them and the business. They want to feel secure rather than concerned that you are giving up on everything.

–Have a contingency plan. Regularly go over the plans, roles and responsibilities, and have a contingency strategy in place for any potential things that could go wrong while you are away. Think of it as a risk management program to oversee what type of problems might arise and how they can be fixed without your having to get involved.

–Put someone in charge. Put someone in charge who you can trust with your life (because your business is essentially your life). You need someone who you know will run it like you and have the skills, knowledge and experience necessary. Often, this may mean making that person an interim CEO so everyone understands who is leading the company.

–Make a financial plan. Make decisions about critical areas like finances, and put those terms in writing. This may include designating someone (usually the interim CEO) who can spend money and explaining what types of financial actions they can take.

–Create an emergency route. Don’t leave the team high and dry, but give the interim CEO and key personnel an emergency form of contact to reach you if they absolutely must do so. You can also provide specific examples of what defines an emergency situation, which also frames the type of decisions and actions they can take without you.

–Relax. Let yourself enjoy the time and don’t give into any guilt or anxiety that may creep up. That happened to me during my first sabbatical, but I reminded myself that I had a trusted team in place. When I returned and everything was running smoothly, it gave me the confidence to take another one the following year.

Give yourself a break

Every day, I see entrepreneurs working night and day for what they believe in. You are to be commended, well and truly. But here’s the thing: You are human and you need a break every once in a while. Let yourself have that, whether it’s for an afternoon, a week, a month or longer: It gives you a chance to recharge the batteries and puts you in environments that provide a different perspective for seeing where change in your business is necessary. With the right support, talent in place, and a well-thought-out strategy, you can take the time and still be just as successful — if not more!