Forget taking PTO. 2021 is all about the sabbatical

Guide to Taking Time Off as an Independent Contractor

Forget taking PTO. 2021 is all about the sabbatical

Burnout is real. Humans are not robots meant to work nonstop. For mental health and productivity reasons, a healthy work-life balance is crucial.

In fact, taking time off as an independent contractor is beneficial for a worker’s overall well-being. A decades-long study called the Helsinki Businessmen Study found that vacations can actually prolong life.

It turns out the subjects had a higher mortality rate if they shortchanged their vacations regardless of how healthy their lifestyles were.

Yet taking time off as an independent contractor is not as easy as it seems. Yes, you have the freedom to choose your own schedules and pencil in some significant time off if you need to. However, there is a genuine fear among many contractors that if they take a vacation, they will lose both income and clients.

And they are not entirely wrong. Independent contractors do not get paid time off or earn vacation days as employees do.

Some loss of income is expected unless contractors take on some extra work or budget in their vacation time when establishing their rates.

So if you’re worried about taking time off, here are some ideas to help you ease into the vacation destination you’ve always wanted to visit.

Taking Time Off As An Employee Vs. As A Contractor

Taking time off as an independent contractor has some major differences in comparison to employees. Employees request time off from their employers and must work a set schedule. Conversely, independent contractors have the freedom to decide where and when they want to work. They are the masters of their schedule and how many projects or clients they want to take on.

But taking time off as an independent contractor is a tricky situation. Because of the perceived lack of job security, many remote independent contractors power thorough illnesses and other issues.

As a result, many workers seemingly only take time off when near physical collapse. When it comes to vacations, independent contractors are on their own.

On the flip side, salaried employees can earn:

  • Paid time off (PTO)
  • Vacation days or weeks
  • Bereavement leave
  • Parental leave
  • Sick days
  • Time off for jury duty
  • Paid holidays

Nevertheless, an independent contractor’s freedom over their schedule is a significant incentive for people to choose this lifestyle. For salaried employees, certain times of year are “off limits” for scheduling their yearly vacation. Taking extended leave at will is absolutely unacceptable from an employer’s standpoint.

Independent contractors do not have those constraints. If they plan accordingly, they can choose their vacation days at their convenience.They are free to take off as much time as they need between clients or projects if they choose to do so.

Actionable Item: To fully enjoy the flexibility and freedom of being an independent contractor, planning is vital. If setting your own work schedule and working as a remote independent contractor sounds appealing, consider subscribing to Virtual Vocations.

Preparing Your Bank Account For Time Off

It’s time to pull out the calculator and start crunching some numbers. Since self-employed workers do not earn paid time off or vacation time, independent contractors must make sure all living essentials are covered.

Is your budget balanced? Because scheduling time off means that there will be no income flowing into your bank account. It’s vital to know your budget inside and out before making any plans. Make sure your finances can cover your essentials while you are away. Don’t forget to include:

  • Rent/mortgage
  • Utilities
  • Insurance (health, business, home)
  • Car payments
  • School payments
  • Credit cards/loans

In addition, save some money beforehand to enjoy your vacation properly. If possible, load up on extra projects with your existing clients or take on some gig work on the side. Any additional influx of cash will not only give you peace of mind but also help you enjoy your time off by not having to worry about pinching your pennies too much.

Actionable Item: Don’t take on new clients right before your time off. Instead, work a temporary job during your free time for some extra income before committing to new clients. Onboarding a new client is time consuming, and disappearing right after landing them may also make clients feel abandoned. This can also potentially sour your professional relationship.

How To Properly Inform Clients That You Will Be Unavailable

Although independent contractors don’t need to ask for permission to take time off, giving clients a heads-up beforehand is essential. Furthermore, communication is key. Without it, the contractor who simply takes off on vacation with no notice might find themselves replaced when they return.

Sending clients an email on your planned absence and the cut-off date for new assignments before your vacation is good business sense.

Emailing this notification helps ongoing clients make alternate arrangements regarding project work and deadlines. Plus, both parties can get on the same page regarding emergency support during your absence.

Not only that, but it will also help you plan out and complete your workload without having to rush at the last minute.

Actionable Item: For extended vacations, consider giving clients one or two months of notice before the cut-off date for new work. This deadline gives clients the flexibility to decide if they need to move deadlines or rearrange ongoing campaigns.

Don’t Let Responsibilities Fall Through The Cracks

One of the downsides of contracting is that there aren’t any colleagues to cover for you on your days off. However, you can easily mitigate this hurdle.

If the client or your contract allows it, consider delegating your work to a reliable and trusted subcontractor or a virtual assistant.

If not, assess your commitments and work on them during the weekends before your time off. Remember that your professional reputation is at stake.

To alleviate client anxiety regarding your absence, give them a roadmap of actions to take for any ongoing campaigns. Make sure any assigned projects are finished beforehand, even if the deadline is after your planned return. Send out reminder emails a few weeks before going on vacation. This way, if there is anything urgent or pending, it can be taken care of properly and with ample time.

Actionable Item: To eliminate an unpleasant surprise the day before your vacation starts, schedule a call or send an email to remind clients of your cut-off date for new work. Make certain that the client is fully aware of your absence and that they’ve received your notice. This will avoid any panic or gray areas.

Give Everyone The 411 On Your Return Date

Let clients know of your return-to-work date. A quick note of your return date in your out-of-office reply email will usually suffice.

Some clients may assume that you are still away and unavailable if you have not contacted them after your return.

As a reminder, send an email and inform them that although you have returned to work, you will need a day or two to get back to normal productivity.

Take this time to answer emails, voicemails, and project notes to prioritize your tasks. Schedule calls for later that week. Don’t commit to new projects with a rushed due date for that week, as you will still be catching up on what you missed while you were away. Enjoy this transitional process. Your clients will be thrilled to have a refreshed new you, ready to get back to the grind.

Actionable Item: Make sure you do not commit to turning in any deliverables on your first day back from vacation. Not only will you have to work on them while you’re supposed to be enjoying your time off, but you may also have unforeseen delays with internet connectivity or travel. Give yourself a buffer for the unexpected.

How To Truly Disconnect & Enjoy The Break

Do you want to ruin a long-awaited vacation? Add some work-related stress to it. To avoid this situation, clearly communicate with your clients that you’re completely off-the-grid during your time off.

And the more vital portion: actually disconnect. Even if your long-awaited vacation is more of a “staycation,” do something else that has absolutely nothing to do with technology.

This is the perfect time to be unreachable.

We live in a time where our smartphones are practically an extra limb. Therefore disconnecting is a challenge, especially for independent contractors who do not have the promise of guaranteed income.

Since they must constantly hustle for their next paycheck, taking time off as an independent contractor can be fraught with worry. Don’t let the idea of missing out on a critical notification or phone call wreak havoc on your mindset.

You prepared ahead of time for this time off. Enjoy it.

To disconnect during your time off, remember to:

  • Turn off all work-related app notifications
  • Set up an out-of-office email reply
  • Don’t take your laptop, tablet, or work phone with you
  • Turn off your calendar reminders
  • Log off your social media accounts
  • Adjust your alarm clock to your vacation needs

Actionable Item: Do you remember the phrase “ sight, mind?” If your personal phone and work phone are the same, temporarily delete your work-related applications or place them in a different folder. The accounts will remain, but the temptation to check them frequently will be eliminated.

If Totally Disconnecting is Hard, Consider a Working Vacation

For contractors who cannot take time off but still need to get away, consider a working vacation. Thanks to modern technology and high-speed internet connections, remote work enables independent contractors to work from anywhere they please. Just make sure to schedule some time to actually enjoy your vacation.

Let the client know of your modified schedule. Tell them if you plan on only checking emails at the end of the business day or if you plan on being available for conference calls on certain days of the week.

Many clients assume that freelancers or independent contractors are available to them on a 24/7 basis. Some bolder clients have zero qualms about interrupting your well-deserved vacation at all hours for their needs. So, be firm with your schedule from the get-go.

Otherwise, clients will believe you’re at their beck and call.

Actionable Item: Inform your clients that you are unavailable to respond to work calls after a certain time of day. Then, stick to it. If not, you will be letting your clients know that your personal time is not worth respecting. Remember that boundaries are essential to a productive and healthy professional relationship. Don’t forget to set them.

Workaholics Take Note: Vacations Are Integral to Your Success

Independent contractors need to realize that taking time off is necessary for their health and well-being. But contractors are also responsible for setting their vacation policies.

Regardless of whether it’s for short breaks, long vacations, or extended leave, no one else is going to make sure they take a well-deserved break. Prioritizing your physical and mental well-being and planning your time off is up to you.

Yes, we may still be in a global pandemic, but that doesn’t mean you can’t take a break. So, enjoy the freedom that working as an independent contractor provides and take that time off you’ve been pining for.

Do you have concerns or a proven plan for taking time off as an independent contractor? Connect with Virtual Vocations on , , LinkedIn, Instagram, and  to share your thoughts. We’d love to hear from you!

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What is a Sabbatical Leave Policy? Things to Consider

Forget taking PTO. 2021 is all about the sabbatical

Your work schedule can get so packed, some days there are not spare minutes for breaks—much less the time to focus on building skills and experiences that can improve your job and even career. What you need may be a sabbatical.

Un vacations, sabbaticals allow employees to pursue enriching activities that benefit their career paths and their employers. Employees who take sabbaticals come back to work re-charged and ready to focus on the big picture. Implementing a sabbatical leave policy could be a game-changer for your company.

What’s Sabbatical Leave?

Sabbatical leave is an extended leave granted to a worker for study or travel. Traditionally, sabbaticals were taken by university professors, could last up to a year and be paid.

Today, other industries, even construction, have adopted these policies and have made them much more fluid.

Sabbaticals can be any duration in time, as long as they’re longer than standard employee vacations, and can be paid or unpaid.

Employees taking sabbatical leave engage in activities they normally couldn’t do with their regular work schedules. Some examples include:

  • Traveling overseas
  • Volunteering for an extended period
  • Researching topics relevant to their careers
  • Studying or training to advance their careers

Sabbatical leave is not a vacation. The goal of sabbatical leave isn’t just to de-stress, but to accomplish the above actions to help enrich careers and bring that development back to benefit the employers.

Developing a Sabbatical Leave Policy

When crafting a sabbatical leave policy, according to SHRM, HR departments should make sure to include:

The purpose of the policy

Clearly state why your company has this policy. It could be to encourage creativity or innovation to improve product development.

It could be to elevate marketing efforts to expand into different industries. Or it could be to research green building practices to grow your customer base.

Whatever the reason, make sure your policy ties the results of a sabbatical leave back to the company.

How the policy works

Outline who is eligible to take a sabbatical leave and for how long. Also, include what type of leave is considered appropriate.

For example, sabbatical leave might be available for management or higher, may last anywhere from one month to a year and must be focused on self-development.

 If your employee is designing new software for the company or writing materials the company will use, make sure to include an intellectual property clause.

Iron out eligibility details

In your policy, be sure to specify which employees can take a sabbatical, for how long and what the rate of pay will be.

Some companies offer sabbaticals unpaid, fully paid at their employee’s regular rate, 50% paid or some combination of all three.

For example, professional and creative employees might be able to take up to six months of sabbatical leave, the first month at full pay, the second at 75% pay, the third at 50% and so on.

Companies may also tie tenure to the amount of leave taken. For example, it’s typical for a university to offer up to a year of sabbatical for every seven years worked. Your company might require employees at director and executive levels have at least 10 years of continuous full-time service for eligibility.

Or, if your company is experiencing a trend where creative team members leave after five years, adopting a sabbatical leave policy after five years of continuous full-time employment might be a solution.

 Don’t forget to provide details about when eligible employees can reapply for sabbatical leave;  at least three years following their previous sabbatical completion.

Set procedures for requesting sabbatical leave

Spell out for employees how they can request sabbatical leave. It should include some type of internal form or letter requesting the leave including why the leave is warranted and what the employee will be doing while on sabbatical.

 Do employees want a sabbatical to continue their education, conduct research or volunteer? Also, include how sabbatical is granted, i.e.

, it is per request or determined by company necessity? And what type of communication is required from employee throughout the duration? For example, a company might require continual check-ins, grades or reports from trainings or submitted projects or manuscripts.

Stay compliant

Remind employees any time taken for approved Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) leave cannot be counted against eligibility or continuous service.

 The FMLA requires employers of 50 or more employees to give up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave to eligible employees for the birth or adoption of a child or the serious illness of the employee or a spouse, child or parent.

 Also state if the employee may remain on the company’s group medical plan.

Examples of Sabbatical Leave Policies

There are several well-known companies, across a variety of industries, that offer sabbatical leave policies for their employees. Some examples include:

Arco Construction – The general contracting firm’s sabbatical program offers associates a month-long paid leave of absence for every five years of full-time employment. The time may be used to travel or pursue lifelong dreams. The company claims its associates have visited more than 30 countries on six different continents.

Vistaprint – The promotional product company offers a four-week sabbatical for every five years of service for all full-time employees in good standing. Called VistaBreak, the sabbatical leave policy became so popular it was extended to employees who refer talent.

Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants – The company offers a four-week-long sabbatical to employees who have worked at one of their hotels or restaurants for seven years. Employees must be director level or above to qualify for this benefit.

Adobe – The software company offers sabbatical leave to employees with at least five years of continuous employment and work a minimum of 24 hours a week.

 Employees can use the leave to relax, recharge, energize or volunteer. The length of leave increases with every five years of employment.

Employees with 10 years of service receive five weeks and 15-plus years receive six weeks. Employees on sabbatical receive their regular pay and benefits.

Zillow Group – The real estate site offers employees with six years of continuous service up to six weeks of time to “Reboot & Recharge”. Sabbatical leave is offered to employees at all levels as long as they meet the tenure requirements.

Advantages of Sabbatical Leave

Why should you pay employees to leave work for a month, six months or even a year? Sabbatical leave offers many advantages for companies.

For employees, the leave allows them to de-stress and re-energize. Employees get the opportunity to pursue a lifelong dream,  travel, write a book or volunteer the country, and that makes them happier.

Employees come back with increased knowledge, energy and enhanced wellbeing. Employees who are happy are more engaged in their work and more ly to retain their employment with your company, reducing turnover.

For employers, one of the biggest benefits of offering sabbatical leave is reducing turnover. Turnover costs companies an average of $4,000 to hire a new employee and can affect a company’s overall performance.

 If employees must cover the work of someone who has quit, they can quickly get burned out. The morale at a company can drop fast when employees keep jumping ship. And just as low morale spreads quickly, so does happiness.

Employees who are emotionally well positively impact their co-workers.

Consider another advantage; according to Digital HR Tech, offering sabbatical leave can even help companies prepare for the future or the unexpected.

 If you allow your company’s leaders to take sabbatical leave, it allows others to step into their role, testing your succession planning. It also allows companies to be proactive by preparing for long-term absences.

 It’s never a good thing when one employee leaving can sink the entire ship. Developing plans that cover absences at every position helps companies easily pivot when essential employees leave.

Plus, when it comes to recruiting, offering sabbatical leave is a great perk that will attract new employees. It could be what sets your company apart from the competition.

Creating a sabbatical leave policy helps create a company culture that both retains and attracts the best employees.

 While implementing a sabbatical leave party won’t solve all of your issues,  high turnover rates or lack of applicants, it may just be the benefit that gives your company an edge.

 Arcoro’s Free HR Assessment can shine a spotlight on areas that may need improvement, attracting candidates, developing a good onboarding plan, staying compliant and training.


Taking A Sabbatical – 5 Things To Know Before

Forget taking PTO. 2021 is all about the sabbatical

Sharing is caring!

Before you take a sabbatical, make sure you know what you are in for.

This post covers everything you need to know before taking your first sabbatical.

We have several other posts about taking a sabbatical, check them out here:

  • Ultimate Guide for a Career Break
  • How to get an 18 months leave of absence?

Sabbaticals, also known as leave of absence, are getting more popular amongst employers that see the benefits of letting employees take some time off. After all, it is a win-win deal.

Your employer wants to have a lower turnover of employees and a revived and energetic workforce. There are plenty of reasons why employee time off can boost the performance of a company.

For you personally, a sabbatical is a great means for taking a break from your current job to focus on something that you normally don’t have enough time for. It can improve your career prospect in the future in several ways, discussed in details over here.

The reasons for taking a sabbatical are vast. Some people choose to pursue a hobby in more depth, some might use the time to take care of a family member, while others choose to go on an adventure. 

Whichever reason it is that draws you to consider a sabbatical, there are a few things you need to consider before you approach your employer. In our post How to Get an 18 Months Sabbatical we tell you how to increase your chances of getting your sabbatical approved.

Here are 5 things you should consider before starting your path towards a sabbatical.


Physician Burnout: Should I Take a Sabbatical?

Forget taking PTO. 2021 is all about the sabbatical

Everybody's job gets stressful sometimes, no matter how engaged or passionate you are — and physicians are undoubtedly familiar with on-the-job stress. Chronic workplace stress can result in burnout, which profoundly affects your quality of life and your work.

[RELATED: Learn everything you need to know about physician burnout here.]

A brief sabbatical can dramatically improve your physical and mental state. If you're worried about burnout, read on to learn more about what it is, how it affects your work and health, and tips on asking for a sabbatical so you can recharge.

Taking Care of Yourself

If you work as a physician, you probably don't need to be told that it can be an incredibly stressful job. It's true that high pay and the satisfaction of helping others will offset some of the stress for some people.

But, over time, working long hours and living with the anxiety of having other people's well-being in your hands will affect even the most stoic physician. Other factors professionals cite in the epidemic of physician burnout include chaotic work environments, an uptick in bureaucratic busywork, an argumentative atmosphere, and declining pay combined with increased workloads.

The World Health Organization recently labeled professional burnout as a syndrome, with symptoms including energy depletion or exhaustion, emotional distance from or cynicism about one's job, and reduced efficacy in the workplace. A 2016 Mayo Clinic survey estimated that just over half of all physicians experienced at least one symptom of burnout in 2014 — an increase of nearly ten percent compared with just three years ago.

While many physicians stay on the job to improve patients' lives, physician stress has serious effects on patients. Studies link burnout with decreased patient satisfaction and poorer health outcomes.

Distraction and disengagement can worsen physicians' bedside manner and cause an increased rate of errors — which can be serious in some cases.

All of this can create a self-perpetuating cycle: when a physician knows their job performance is suffering, they're more ly to become stressed on the job.

And, of course, burnout greatly affects the physician. Chronic stress negatively affects physical and mental health, and experts link it with increased risks of chronic illness. Reports say many physicians leave their work mid-career due to job stress.

Most tragically of all, an estimated 400 physicians take their lives in the US every year. While it's impossible to create a direct correlation between this and job stress, physician suicide rates are sky-high compared with the rest of the population, and that's almost certainly not a coincidence.

In a recent interview, Mayo Clinic physician and co-creator of the Well-Being Index Dr. Lotte Dyrbye explained, “We’re taking care of everybody else and sometimes we forget about the importance of taking care of ourselves.”

Why a Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a vacation from your job. It typically lasts at least a few weeks, and as long as a few months (or, a year in this case). It may be paid or unpaid, depending on the terms of your employment.

You can spend your sabbatical however you please, including traveling, or focusing on your hobbies or your family. The idea is that if you spend time completely away from work (rather than just cutting back on your hours), you'll come back relaxed and refreshed, and ready to rededicate yourself to your career.

To some physicians, a sabbatical may seem a very long time to step back from their work. But so long as the physician has set up everything well in advance, there's no need to worry. It's worthwhile to try going on sabbatical at least for a while if you're feeling stressed.

Sabbatical Logistics

If you're considering going on a six-week sabbatical, here are some things to think about:

Paid, or unpaid? Paid sabbaticals are always best, of course, but not all workplaces will offer one. If you're considering an unpaid sabbatical, make sure you can go without a few paychecks before leaving.

Making arrangements. If you have any pressing projects, clear them up before you leave. Make sure someone in the office will be handling all your communications, and have a medical practitioner who will take your patients in your absence.

Giving notice. You can't just disappear. You need to make sure your bosses, coworkers, and patients all know you're going on sabbatical and how long it'll last. Make sure everyone is aware of the arrangements you've made in your absence, so there's no confusion.

Take, for example, this process map for a physician sabbatical:

How to Ask for a Sabbatical

Asking for a sabbatical can be nerve-wracking — but with a little care, it doesn't have to be hard.

It's good to start feeling your bosses and coworkers out in casual conversations, to get a better understanding of what things would look if you left, and to give a little warning.

This initial period is also a good time to do your homework on your workplace's sabbatical policy, if it has one.

Presumably by the point you're burned out, you've gone the extra mile to help out around your office, and people understand how valuable you are to your facility. As you close in on making your request, start asking around to get your colleagues to cover you.

Finally, it's time to sit down with your employer and make the case. Explain that you've been feeling burned out, and want to take your sabbatical before the quality of your work is damaged.

Explain that you have the coverage lined up.

If you're going to be using your sabbatical to work on continuing education or other coursework that makes you more valuable, let them know, to sweeten the deal.

Make Yourself a Priority

Many physicians suffer from stress that profoundly affects their quality of life. But a sabbatical can help you unwind and give your full attention to your work afterwards. You may feel a sense of guilt if you take a sabbatical, but keep in mind that you need to be your best self to give your patients the best care.

By planning your sabbatical request ahead of time, you can ensure a positive outcome for yourself, your patients, and your workplace.


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