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.
“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.