April 4, 2024
Last updated:

Embracing growth and balance: Exploring the sabbatical experience with Nils at gridX

It used to be that sabbaticals were only for teachers and professors – but no longer. Now, in the ever-demanding business world, jobs with sabbaticals are highly sought after. This extended time away from work has emerged as a valuable opportunity for employees to step away from routine, recharge and explore new horizons. At gridX, a sabbatical is not just an employee benefit, it's an investment in the personal and professional development of our team members.

gridX Backend Developer Nils van Ouwerkek recently took advantage of the sabbatical perk and headed east from Germany – far, far east. Below, we asked him about the highlights of his sabbatical, plus how his work colleagues dealt with his absence and what his tips are for other people interested in taking a sabbatical. 

1. What motivated you to take a sabbatical?

My partner and I always wanted to go on a long trip after she finished her PhD. Fortunately, gridX offered this opportunity with the sabbatical benefit.

2. Can you share a brief overview of your sabbatical experience?

We started our travels in Nepal for a two week trekking tour in the Himalayas. We walked around the 8th highest mountain in the world and reached up to 5000 m. We left the country with amazing memories of the tour, the nature and the astounding size of the mountains. We also enjoyed meeting many incredibly friendly and open people.

Hiking through the awe-inspiring Himalayas.

Our next stop was the Malaysian part of Borneo. Once again, we enjoyed a wide range of outdoor activities from cave climbing to wildlife tours, where we saw many endangered species, including a wild orangutan.

After about 2.5 weeks, we continued our journey to Sulawesi, one of Indonesia's largest islands and still a hidden and little known destination for travelers. It has a completely different vibe and culture to other Indonesian islands, such as the more touristy Bali. We spent a whole month there starting in the north and working our way south. As it has some of the best diving in the world, I was able to get my diving license there and we also used the time to relax on the island's pristine beaches. We spent a lot of time getting to know the people of Sulawesi and their amazing food. We were able to really immerse ourselves in the culture by staying in homestays and living like the locals.

We ended the trip with three days in Singapore to acclimatize to the hustle and bustle of city life once more. In total, the trip lasted 2.5 months.

3. How did you plan and prepare for your time away from work?

I am very fortunate to work with such supportive team members who made the preparation extremely easy. Apart from a few tasks to prepare for the handover, there was not much to do. The working mode of our – and probably many other development teams at gridX – was also very accommodating to taking a sabbatical. Usually, we commit to tasks and goals as a whole team and then work on them together. We pick tasks from a pool rather than having dedicated people for specific responsibilities. With me being on sabbatical, there was just one less person working on the overall team tasks, but no one was left in the lurch and projects did not suffer.

4. Did you acquire any new skills or knowledge that you could apply to your role upon returning?

As I didn't specifically take the sabbatical to learn a new skill or something that would directly help me in my day-to-day work, I initially thought the overall benefit to my work at gridX would be limited. However, being away for an extended period gave me an outside view of different issues we face. I feel I’m more open to different perspectives now.

The luscious, green rice fields on Sulawesi.

5. How did your colleagues and superiors support your decision to take a sabbatical?

My manager was very supportive and encouraged me to pursue this opportunity. From day one, he made it clear that the team would be able to handle my absence and that he wanted to make sure I got to have this experience. At the time, sabbaticals were a relatively new option for gridX employees, so I also contacted our People & Culture team, who were very helpful in answering all of my questions. My team took the news with a bit of surprise, but were genuinely happy for me and interested in my plans for the sabbatical.

6. Did the sabbatical help you achieve a better work-life balance? If so, how?

Since returning from my sabbatical, one aspect of my work-life balance has really improved: I am putting less pressure on myself than before. I was away for more than two months and my team did exceptionally well. It’s good to see that we can rely on each other and that I'm not a bottleneck for the group.

7. How did the break from work impact your overall well-being and stress levels?

It was nice to feel a direct impact on my stress levels. When I go trekking in my free time, I usually feel the mental stress drop and that's exactly what I felt this time. Trekking in the Himalayas is, in general, very calming and it was the perfect starting point for the trip to clear my head. Overall, it was good to take a step back and reflect on my role and responsibilities.

A stunning sunset on Sulawesi.

8. How did you feel when returning to work after the sabbatical?

As the end of the trip approached, I became more and more excited to get back to work. The trip was like hitting “pause” on my professional life, but, by the end, I was eager to hit “play” and start contributing to the team's mission once again.

When I came back to work, I felt almost like a new employee. A lot of new people joined the company and I had to get used to the little changes that were happening. However, it was great to see how quickly I was reintegrated into the team.

9. What advice would you give to someone considering a sabbatical at our company?

In a few words: Go for it! I can wholeheartedly recommend this opportunity to anyone. Even if you're not a fan of traveling, there are plenty of other reasons to take a sabbatical, such as learning a new skill or starting a project you've never had time for. Ultimately, it's about personal growth – everyone has different ideas and ways of achieving this.

At gridX, we believe in fostering a flexible work culture that prioritizes the well-being and development of our employees. A sabbatical isn’t just a “pause” in your professional journey, but a catalyst for change and continuous growth – both professionally and personally. We offer this benefit to employees in the hopes that it will add to their overall job satisfaction as well as bringing more fulfillment to their life.

If you've been inspired by Nils’s story and are yearning for a similar opportunity to pause, reflect and grow, consider joining our team! Check out our job openings here:

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