TIME TO BREATHE
If you feel in a rut at work, a sabbatical might help you to get unstuck. CHERYL LEONG talks to women who braved a no-pay break from the office.
Asabbatical – extended leave of two months or more – can be just the thing if you’re feeling drained at work, or have been yearning to spend more time on yourself and your family. Or, you may simply want to strike a few to-dos off your bucket list. Wong Kar Lai, head of group HR at Jobstreet.com, says a sabbatical can give you time to refocus and clear your head – women juggle so many roles these days that they need to take a break. And employers are beginning to recognise this. “They are starting to appreciate that when they take care of their employees’ well-being, they’re happier at work and more willing to renew their commitment to their jobs.”
Some sabbaticals can be paid for by your employers, such as when the company sends you for personal or career development courses. But for the most part, you have to take no-pay leave, and being away from the office for an extended period has its risks. “Besides not drawing a salary, you may be at risk of being perceived as redundant if your colleague does your job well in your absence,” says Kar Lai. Still, it hasn’t stopped these women from taking the plunge.
>> Stella Lee, 38
Teacher “My daughter Ella, now five, has severe eczema which can be triggered by dust, washing detergent or food. When she was about two, I took no-pay leave for a month to care for her and noticed that her skin improved drastically – she had fewer open wounds from scratching herself.
I figured it was because I was there to keep her distracted from the itching. In March 2011, I decided to take a two-year sabbatical. I had to cut down on my spending and draw on my savings, but I felt it was worth it.
I didn’t want to put Ella in preschool until I was sure her eczema was under control. So for the two years that I was home with her, I homeschooled her.
Now that she’s in her first year of kindergarten, her teachers say she’s adapting well and can even attempt maths one grade above her level. Her skin has improved dramatically too – her hands and legs aren’t raw from scratching – and she’s less irritable as she’s not always itching.
During my sabbatical, I also went back to competitive running, mostly as a way to bond with my husband, whom I’d met in a running club. I joined my first overseas race in Sydney in September 2011. In 2013, I took part in the Hong Kong Marathon, the Great Eastern Women’s Run, and the Standard Chartered Marathon in December.
I returned to teaching in March this year. At first, I was anxious about going back after being away for two years. But the break helped me realise how much I’d missed teaching and allowed me to reflect on what kind of teacher I wanted to be.
Spending time with my daughter and homeschooling her has taught me to be more patient and helped me understand that all kids are different. Previously, I was more rigid. I’ve learnt to communicate more with my students and this helps me build better relationships with them too.”
“I had to cut down on my spending and draw on my savings, but I felt it was worth it.”
Just another regular training day!