How to take a gap year even if your company doesn’t offer it

Katherine Ullman spent part of her gap year in Colombia.

Courtesy: Katherine Ullman

Katherine Ullman was exhausted from working hard during the Covid-19 pandemic and was questioning her next career move.

A two-month gap year from his job was just what he needed to reevaluate his life. In December, Ullman, who is 33 and lives in San Francisco, traveled to Mexico for a yoga retreat and also to Colombia, where she went on a hike and took an online drawing class.

“There have been conversations about changing roles,” Ullman said of his work. “I was trying to understand, do I want to do it?

“Did I want to do it here?” she added. “Or, or should I think otherwise?

“All these factors came together and this is what led me to really feel that I needed the space.”

More from Invest in You:
Employees of this company adapt to work around their personal lives
This company allows you to work remotely from anywhere in the world
Deepak Chopra: Here’s How To Get The Job Right During The “Big Reshuffle”

Ullman’s consulting firm had a policy that paid her during her leave. Yet not everyone is so lucky. Some may be allowed to take unpaid leave. Others may instead quit their jobs. In fact, that’s exactly what Ullman did shortly after returning to work in late January.

“I hadn’t really made up my mind about what I was planning to do,” he said. “Then I went back and it was clear.”

Ullman is now on his second gap year, this unpaid one. Fortunately, he saved up money to pay his bills.

To be sure, gap years are not a common benefit for employees. Before the pandemic, only 5% of organizations offered a paid sabbatical program, while 11% offered it unpaid, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 benefits report.

Yet there’s something different between a one- or two-week vacation and multiple months off, said DJ DiDonna, who studies sabbaticals and is the founder of the nonprofit research and support organization The Sabbatical Project.

“Very rarely do you have a chance to step back and say, ‘What am I doing? How am I getting closer to life? How do I want my life to be? Have I gone astray?’” He said.

While experts hope more employers will create sabbatical policies in response to the Great Resignations, the wave of layoffs in the era of the pandemic aka the Great Shuffle, there are ways to move forward without a specific policy in place.

Whether you want to ask your employer for extended leave or just be away from work for a period of time, here’s what the experts say.

How to contact your employer

Katherine Ullman took an online drawing course during a gap year in Colombia.

Caterina Ullman

Before you go to your boss to ask for a gap year, do your research first. Find out what benefits the company might offer, even if it’s not exactly identified as a gap year, said Vicki Salemi, a career expert at the Monster job website.

“There may be some gray areas,” he said. “There may be some opportunity to explore.”

Even if you don’t see anything in your perks that would seem to give you extended free time, talk to your boss anyway. That conversation should ideally be in person or via video or phone, but not via email or other messages, Salemi said.

When you meet, know exactly what you are asking for: the number of weeks of vacation and when you want it to start. Get an idea of ​​how your work would be handled during your absence, Salemi advised.

Once you’ve made your request, continue. Check with human resources or any other subsequent steps that may have been decided during the meeting. Start a chain of emails, noting what was discussed and ask any follow-up questions, he said.

If the answer is no, then consider your options.

“This is an opportunity to stop and look at the big picture and see if this company is really a good fit for you,” Salemi said.

Deciding to quit

Mohit Bhasin did a lot of kitesurfing during his gap year.

Courtesy: Mohit Bhasin

Resigning was the best option for 35-year-old Mohit Bhasin, even though his employer, Google, had an unpaid leave policy.

“It was an opportunity to understand the next thing in an open space that came about,” said Bhasin, who passed away in February 2020. “Thinking I could always go back to Google, it wasn’t the fallback I wanted on. to rely on “.

Bhasin, who spent his time in India with his family and kiteboarding in beach destinations like Mexico, had saved up enough money to support himself for at least a year with no income. Besides, he didn’t have a mortgage and could easily cut his expenses when he moved out of San Francisco Bay.

Truth be told, you should be financially ready to quit your job, even if it’s a shorter period of time between jobs.

First, create a budget and review your cash reserves to see if you’re able to run out of revenue for a period of time, said Winnie Sun, co-founder and CEO of Irvine, Calif., Sun Group Wealth Partners.

“I like to advise our clients to have a home equity line of credit set up on their home (if they have equity) before they leave their job / paycheck, have a game plan on how they will hold up during the break (without touching their retirement plan) and have enough income saved plus a ready emergency fund before you leave your job, even if it’s only temporary, ”he said.

Also, make sure you have health coverage during your free time.

You might also consider hiring consulting or part-time work during your gap year. This is what Bhasin did, taking care of writing projects about five months after his leave.

“A good way to figure out what’s next you want to do is to take your skills and help other people,” she said. “This might spark some ideas.”

Ten months after leaving his job, Bhasin returned to work as a data scientist for a tech startup. He returned to California last summer, but continues to travel kiteboarding, since his job is remote and he has flexibility with his schedules.

“I’ve learned what I like,” Bhasin said of his free time.

“Living in the Bay Area, I had no idea remote working could be like this,” he added. “I had no idea you could find such a balance.”

REGISTRATION: Money 101 is an 8-week financial freedom learning course delivered to your inbox weekly. For the Spanish version Dinero 101, click here.

WATCH: Supersaver who amassed 78% of his income and no longer has to worry about money: like I did with Acorns + CNBC

Disclosure: NBCUniversal and Comcast Ventures are investors in acorns.