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Taking a sabbatical could be a very stupid thing to do

Ah, sabbaticals: Very much coveted by stressed out bankers in Asia, but rarely attempted.

Every once in a while, however, there are those like Mark Leahy, formerly from Deutsche Bank's debt syndication business. This seasoned banker took a two-year break, lived on a vineyard in Australia, made wine, hung out with his family and co-founded a wealth management start-up, Finance Asia reported last week.

Unlike lesser mortals, Leahy didn't seem to have a hard time getting a new full-time gig. Nomura snapped him up to head its debt origination and fixed income syndicate for Asia ex-Japan.

If you plan on following in his footsteps, proceed with caution. Amanda Lote, managing director, Lote & Partners, says bankers like Leahy are the exception rather than the rule.

"Asian banks mostly have very conservative cultures, so they are not sure how to respond to candidates who have taken sabbaticals - such people remain unusual. It remains a truism that it is easier to look for a job when you are already in a job," adds Lote.

Angela Kuek, head of front-office banking and financial services, Hudson, says while sabbaticals are not usually viewed favorably, firms today are becoming slightly more tolerant. "Generally the more senior or specialised the skill sets and the greater value one brings, the more accepting firms are with sabbatical breaks."

Two big reasons not to take a break

1) You lose touch

Kuek says the downsides of sabbaticals include losing contacts and being away from the deal table. Product-specific or specialised bankers could also become out of touch with changes in policies and methods. "Cycles peak and trough much faster now, so any break that is more than two years will be too long."

2) You lose money

Don't expect to be rewarded for enjoying yourself. Lote says candidly: "Candidates are unlikely to get more pay for having an enjoyable or rewarding sabbatical experience. If they are lucky they might get the same amount of money they had in their previous position, but the gamble is that their remuneration may be less."

Kuek usually tells returnees to be "realistic", however she has seen cases where candidates get a slight increase. She cites the example of a sales person who got a five per cent salary increment after a two-year break.

If you have taken the sabbatical plunge and want to return to banking, it's best to specify the chronological dates of employment on your CV and explain the break in person, during the interview, advises Kuek.

Have you taken a sabbatical? Tell us all about it in the comments box below. Got a news lead that we should follow up on? Write to us at

AUTHORShree Ann Mathavan Insider Comment
  • JJ
    1 July 2011

    I am doing a 1 year sabbatical now and I am grateful for it - during this time, I faced up my fears and worries over my future and found an answer to what I should be doing to fulfill my dreams for the long term (think 30, 40 years). There is nothing to fear but fear itself. Life is full of solutions if you take time to look, don't be "button into a hole" which you create for yourself and nobody knows!

  • As
    17 May 2011

    I agreed. We should practise that in Asia, why is the working culture so different between the East and the West? I could literally see slaving-driving attitude in the East while in the West work life is perfectly balanced!!!

    Do something Asia we can also enjoy our work too!!!

  • ft
    13 May 2011

    A bit harsh of local recruiters, but I still tend to agree with the other comments. As a foreigner working in Singapore, I'm disappointed in the lack of focus on "me," it all being about "them" (ie, the firm). What about the happiness, peace of mind, re-focusing, re-energizing effect a sabbatical can have on a working professional stressed after so many years of hard, long, and perhaps unrewarding service? I myself recently took a 6 month sabbatical before jumping into a job search. I never regretted the decision I made and am happy with my current status. To friends who ask me about it, I tell them, if you have the confidence that you'll land on your feet when you declare your sabbatical over, DO IT!

  • li
    13 May 2011

    Maybe some women like my wife had the opportunity to do so in their career. Husband paid for the break. At the end, she changed career and made it to top management. On the flipside, I wish....

  • Jo
    11 May 2011

    Its a cruel competive world out there, take sabbathical and you come back as rip van winkle. technologies, systems, relationship move very fast.

    as for comments on recruiters, could disagree more. if they were any good they will not be in recruitment. Its frustrating talking to recruiters whom have no clue what it takes to do the job and most don't even understand the job specs.

    To your recruiters reading these columns you may be better off selling used cars unless you have been in the line you are seeking candidates for,

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