At Blue Shield of California, we understand the significance of work-life balance and are dedicated to fostering an environment where our employees can thrive both personally and professionally. As part of this commitment, we proudly offer a sabbatical benefit, providing four weeks of paid time off after every five years of employment. This unique offering allows our people to embark on meaningful journeys beyond the workplace. We recently had the opportunity to learn about the incredible experiences of three of our team members during their sabbaticals. From kangaroo encounters in Australia and savoring cheesecake in Japan to engaging in lifesaving endeavors, join us as we delve into their inspiring stories of time well spent away from work.

Joselle Ho, senior manager of UX Research and Design, Health Innovation Technology 

Joselle has worked at Blue Shield for nearly 10 years and decided to take her sabbatical this past summer. She and her family spent the entire time traveling, mostly in Japan, with a week-long trip to the Philippines for her friend’s wedding.

“I love traveling, so having the time to take this kind of big trip was special. Having that much time to spend with my husband and kids was incredible. I can’t really describe how meaningful that time was for me to be with family and one of my best friends as they got married.”

When reminiscing on some of the highlights of her time off, Joselle says that she enjoyed boat tripping with her kids in the Philippines, which has “the most gorgeous scenery, and the best mangoes.” In Japan, she and her family, “ate our way through Tokyo. We’re definitely foodies. One slightly embarrassing morning, we stumbled upon a famous jiggly cheesecake company that had a big line, so we had to try one. My family and I sat on the floor of our hotel room and ate the entire cheesecake with our hands for breakfast because we didn’t have utensils. There were many sweet, small moments like that, which were really meaningful because our kids are so young.”

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When speaking of advice she has for those planning their sabbaticals, Joselle says, “I’m a person who struggles to take time off and am consistently at the max of my paid time off (PTO). I have a hard time disconnecting from work and there was a lot of stress leading up to my sabbatical on my part. It’s difficult to be out of the loop and be gone for that long, but my team executed beautifully in my absence, so trust that your co-workers have things under control and take that time for yourself.”

She also advises others to, “Go to Japan. It’s so fabulous there and very cost-effective right now to travel.” In terms of things to avoid, she says, “Do not accidentally give your two-year-old a Red Bull before a flight from Japan to California. In Japan they have these little food pouches, which look like our packages of baby food in the states. My daughter wanted one the entire trip and I wouldn’t let her have one until we got on the airplane as a treat.” Joselle recalls that it had a peach on the front of it, so it appeared to be innocent enough. To her dismay, she learned afterward that it was highly caffeinated. “My daughter pulled an all-nighter on the plane, so don’t do that.”

Joselle also advises those who plan to travel for their sabbaticals to “pack light. It makes traveling so much easier.”

Alex Ward, configuration analyst, senior, Applications Development Support and Continuous Integration

Alex has been at Blue Shield for nearly six years and decided to take his sabbatical in July. He and his daughter spent half of the time traveling to Australia, and the other half at home throwing water balloons at each other in the summer heat before she started kindergarten.  

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In terms of feeling a greater sense of work-life balance, Alex says, “My colleagues and I always joke that the weekends aren’t long enough, or if we take a week or two of PTO, we come back and say that wasn’t long enough, but with four weeks off for sabbatical, it really sank in. You can really detach from work and focus on what you want to do during that time. I definitely felt refreshed, recharged, and a greater sense of work-life balance upon returning, as I had a solid break for the first time in a while.”

“I hadn’t seen my family in seven years, since 2016 when I moved to the U.S. and started working. When I first moved, I told everyone I’d be back soon, every few years, but when you start a family and pay rent and all that, you don’t always have the time or money to travel home.”

Alex and his daughter have been having weekly video calls with his mother in Australia for the past five years, “so it was nice for my daughter to meet her grandmother.”

Some highlights of their trip to Australia included seeing some of Alex’s old friends who are now married with kids of their own. “I got to see my friends as parents and my daughter got to play with all their kids. It was mostly family and friends with a bit of kangaroo petting in the middle.”

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When it comes to advice, Alex says, “As with everything in life, try to do a balance of things. Don’t spend all your time on one activity. If you’re into computer games, play the computer game one day, then take a long drive the next, or go for a hike. If you’re taking a trip overseas, get all your arrangements in place early. I was complacent and missing a piece of paperwork for my daughter. I didn’t know that she needed a Visa because she’s a U.S. citizen and I’m an Australian citizen. I’m very attentive to details, but that’s one technicality I didn’t bother to look up. We had to travel a day later because of the paperwork. So, triple-check your paperwork if you’re going overseas.”

For those planning to travel to Australia, Alex advises, “I’m from Sydney, which is a big city like San Francisco. There’s a lot of tourism there, so it’s a place to see, but it depends on what you’d like to do. You may want to travel north up the coast to the Great Barrier Reef and go boating, snorkeling, and whale watching, or there’s also the Outback experience where you go out into the bush if you’re adventurous. I recommend staying along the coast toward the big cities, but that’s just me. Everyone’s different.” 

Ljubica Roberts-Popovac, clinical program manager of Quality, principal

Ljubica (Bea) has been at Blue Shield for six and a half years. After planning her sabbatical for a year, she took her time off in July. The original plan was to move closer to her parents, organize the house, and go on an extended family road trip with her brother (a schoolteacher) and family to Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, one month before her sabbatical, her father, 94, received news that his cancer had returned. He had been in remission for 25 years.

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“Because I had so much time off, I was able to coordinate my father’s care, take him to his appointments, and advocate for him. I was a nursing supervisor at one of the nearby hospitals, and so I know many of the doctors. Because I had a flexible schedule due to my sabbatical, I was able to get my father in to see his doctors sooner when there were cancelations. The doctors were also able to get him on his meds right away with no delays in approvals or grants for a take-home medication that acts like oral chemotherapy.”

Bea’s father was able to join her family for part of their trip. “Because I had the flexibility, I was able to move the trip around my dad’s doctor appointments.”

Some highlights included renting a pool cabana in Las Vegas where she was able to spend time with her parents, brother, nieces, and nephews.

Her father’s cancer is now almost back in remission. “My sabbatical literally saved my dad’s life. There would have been no other way to get my dad to all his appointments and support his health without taking caregiver leave.” 

Bea's parents with their grandkids

When speaking of advice for those contemplating taking their sabbaticals, she says, “You have to take it. Don’t push it back. Turn off your Teams and email notifications. Everything was fine when I returned.” Bae continues, “Life is too short, so take time with your loved ones. If I hadn’t had that month off, I don’t know how I would have handled it all.”

Would you like to work for a company that rewards you with four weeks of paid time off after every five years? Check out our open career opportunities and apply!