Early last year, after winding down a long-term work contract in Hong Kong and relocating to England, for the first time in 20 years, I found myself with plenty of time on my hands and nothing to do. It felt amazing—reading newspapers in the morning, lingering over breakfasts and coffees, catching mid-day matinees in empty theaters—so amazing, in fact, that, pretty quickly, I made the decision to continue doing nothing for six months thereafter.
It turns out I wasn’t the only one. Somewhere, lost amidst shouty internet headlines about the Great Resignation and a growing anti-work movement—some workers who can afford it are quietly hitting pause. Instead of quitting one job to immediately embark on another, a growing number of American workers are choosing to take time off to do nothing at all—at least for a little while.
According to DJ DiDonna, a co-founder of The Sabbatical Project, data from the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM) shows that sabbaticals—which DiDonna defines as “extended breaks from routine work with the purpose of seeking rest and renewal”—have tripled in the past four years, in large part because of COVID-19.
“The pandemic is forcing people to make a change and to think about life and about themselves in a way they probably wouldn’t have ever done normally—about how precious and short life and our time is,” DiDonna says. In the more than 50 interviews DiDonna conducted in preliminary research for a book he is writing on the topic, he found that people were increasingly unwilling to put off their bucket list dreams. “You hear that story a lot among [study] participants—that their father always wanted to travel around the country in an RV and then, after they retired, they had a stroke. And they’re like, ‘I don’t want that to happen to me.’”