Sabbatical and Parental Leave – Downshifter’s heaven!

Some words on spare time:

I love it!

My job is fine and I like going there but it’s absolutely not my goal to spend too much time there either.

I am committed to enjoy every single year now and I want to keep my body, mind and spirit in good shape to have a good time in the next decades as well.

So better not work too much if you somehow can afford it (and you can! by living more frugal and by earning/spending more efficiently).

Additionally, I love travelling, the world is big and beautiful, so that needs a lot of time.

Safranbolu, Black Sea, Turkey – a small village in Ottoman style (on the UNESCO world heritage list). Makes you feel like having warped to the 17th century (but photo taken in 2010 by me) and a very good place to stop at during an extended parental leave trip.

And I think a real downshifter should have a huge block of spare time every now and then to reflect on his life, to get a more distant view on his job and workplace and to have time to find out what he/she really wants…all being things you cannot do during your stressful and distracted time in the rat-racing-track.

Did you know that true mental relaxation in holidays (meaning the point of time from which on your thoughts do not drift back to work-related issues anymore) starts only after 3 weeks of absence?

That means that most employees and self-employed are never away from their jobs long enough to REALLY relax in their whole careers!

My personal goal is a break of at least 4 weeks in a row once a year and at least a 8-week-block every 2-3 years. Plus some minor shorter breaks.

Well, goal is one thing, but what about reality?

German holidays are already quite generous, about 6 weeks per year, but far from the average of 10-12 weeks off I am aiming at.

But there are two keys to having huge chunks of holidays from time to time:

1. Parental Leave

Currently, I am looking forward to my fourth block of parental leave to take place in summer 2012.Two blocks I spend immediately after the birth of my boys respectively, doing nothing more that just being at home with the family.

One block (2 ½ months) we spent travelling the Balkan (Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Bulgaria) and Turkey by car from Munich when my older one was 6 months old. What a great journey! We spent there about 7 weeks, and I tell you, that’s what I call relax (You’ll notice a lot of pictures from that trip in this blog).
At the end I really felt like the freest man in the world. A great opportunity I can recommend to anybody who has the chance to do so.

This time it’ll be 3 ½ months out of which 6-7 weeks are reserved for travelling Italy and Sicily.
Looking very much forward and will keep you posted.

Having children is great! Great fun, a new perspective and general enrichment of life.

And since 3 years it is even more attractive in Germany, due to “Elterngeld“:
A compensation paid by the state if you stay away from work with your small children. 65% (up to a max. of 1.800 EUR or 2.000 USD) of your post-tax income is paid to you during an absence of max. 14 months (can be split in different blocks and between the two parents as well).

And the best thing is:
You have a right to do it! Your employer cannot object!

This truly is a downshifter’s heaven, and should increase fertility massively among them! (Good news: A huge new generation of downshifters will be born 🙂 )
So if you have something similar in your country:
Go for it! And do something special with that great gift and your family!
Forget about what your employer might say, forget about losing some bucks or about missing out this and that great opportunities at work…just DO IT.

You will not regret.

2. Sabbatical / unpaid additional holiday

This might be a bit more tricky, as most people do not have a right for it.
However, it is something you might negotiate with your employer in one of the following situations:

  • Some smart new Exec started in your company, and immediately he/she has great new ideas. So your department is currently being restructured as every 2 years. During the typically quite inefficient transition period actually your company might appreciate if you don’t want to have any money and vanish off to a sabbatical.
  • Another smart Exec decided it is time for a cost-savings-program in your company and imposes saving-targets on your boss. Then your boss will be happy if you vanish for a couple of months without payments as it helps him to fulfill his targets.
  • You should really get a raise but your boss is not giving it too you. Open a door for him to give you something else instead. Something that does not cost him anything: A few months of unpaid sabbatical!
  • Somebody else in your company did it. So if you insist long enough, chances are you will get it as well.
  • You are in between two jobs or changing the department. Be quite clear from the beginning that you can only start in x+y months. x being the time your old employer keeps you and y being the time you want to relax. Try to make a statement here, not a proposition that can be negotiated. Because in the latter case, your new boss will try to push you back (you would do the same in his case). My experience is, mostly this is accepted if you are quite strict and specific from the beginning.
  • Convert overtime, in case it is tracked in your company. Saves your company money and brings you your well deserved additional spare-time.
  • Best case: There is a sabbatical scheme at your company. Then keep on asking.
  • Important: Keep on asking and pushing.
    Oh, and for gods sake, do not have a bad conscience or something: Your company will most likely survive without you. And it doesn’t have to pay you and gets back a well relaxed and potentially motivated employee after some months.
  • Accept that you might have to give up a bit on your career plans. You cannot have everything, that’s the deal. But a downshifter doesn’t care about career anyway.

So, try it and I cross fingers that you succeed!



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