One marketer on how a sabbatical helped her reset mentally and professionally
Mieke Stones took a three-month sabbatical from her role as head of marketing at London Sport to cycle from Holland to Portugal last year, which not only improved her mental health but boosted her confidence as a marketer. As told to Charlotte Rogers.
Mieke Stones took a three-month sabbatical from her role as head of marketing at London Sport to cycle around Europe.
“I was experiencing some mental health problems and I had some compassionate leave. It got me thinking that I needed something to aim towards. I knew that I’d been working for my employer for several years and they really valued me. So in my head I just thought, ‘I have no idea what I will use the time for, but I’ve got nothing to lose by asking them if I can have some unpaid time off’. Quite a few of my colleagues had been on various secondments, even though no one had been on an actual sabbatical.
“If you’re a ‘doer’ like I am, and lots of marketers are, sometimes you think you’re not replaceable. But when we were recruiting for a marketing manager to replace me there were so many wonderful candidates to choose from and as soon as we got the best person for the job I had absolutely no qualms.
“We had a week handover either side of my time off, which was amazing. I had a really small marketing team – there were four of us – so I really wanted to make sure the team felt they were being supported. If anything my replacement added value because he wasn’t already in our sector and brought a fresh perspective.
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“I think it’s always a concern if you take a career break to make sure the team is OK, particularly junior members of staff. You don’t want them to feel like they’re going to have a load of extra work or their personal development will be put on hold. But my employer supported me so much by not only making sure I was OK, but actually it was the perfect solution for the team.
“As soon as I was gone I didn’t log into my emails once. I had contact with some close colleagues via WhatsApp, but no emails. I didn’t feel the need to check-in with anything related to work because it was a complete switch off, a complete mental break from any day-to-day stress.
“I had about four days in London before I started back at work full time, so I had a little bit of time to adjust. All I did was two hours’ worth of emails on the Sunday night just to clear my inbox and get a bit of a head start.
“I gained so many things from my sabbatical. I gained not only the ability to mentally and physically reset, but the power of switching off from the daily grind. It gave me a huge increase in confidence in my abilities and an opportunity to think about my work/life balance and what matters to me in my career.
“It has also definitely given me a much more relaxed attitude. That doesn’t mean I don’t work as hard, but I’m trying to see things a bit smarter, be a bit more efficient and actually look after myself more.
“I think the simplicity of living is a big takeaway, not just in terms of the little I needed to survive on the bike ride, but also applying more minimalist principles to everything. I was recently writing a press release and before the trip I would have written double the amount of content that I am now because I’m taking my time and making sure I’m more efficient in my output. No one told me to do it, it’s a confidence thing in my mind.
“It isn’t detrimental to ask your employer the question about sabbaticals, because legally nothing should change even if they say no. I came back from my trip reinvigorated for the next challenge and I also wanted to travel with work, hence why I joined global sports organisation Beyond Sport as a project manager.”
Mieke Stones is now project manager at Beyond Sport, an organisation that uses sport to address social issues in communities.