At Blue Shield of California, we recognize that the foundation of our success lies in the well-being of our people. Emphasizing the importance of work-life balance, we are committed to nurturing an environment that supports our employees’ aspirations, both personally and professionally. Central to this is our sabbatical program, providing four weeks of paid time off following every five years of service. We recently had the privilege of chatting with three employees about their sabbatical journeys, spanning from leisurely family retreats to embracing parenthood, and venturing into the wilds of Africa. Here, we delve into their experiences and revelations. 

Sharon Baumgardner, Human Resources Business Partner, Principal 

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After 12 years of working at Blue Shield, Sharon took her sabbatical in November 2023. Deciding to fill her time off with a mix of activities, she kicked her sabbatical off with a self-care day before flying to New York, NY to spend a week with her sister, cousin, and aunt. “We didn’t want to do touristy things because we’ve been there. I really wanted it to be a relaxing time to spend hanging out with family. We did see a play and went out to eat, but other than that, it was a very laid-back stay for me, which was my theme. For this sabbatical, I did not want an agenda with my trips planned out completely, full of excursions and events.”

Sharon returned home just before Thanksgiving, in time to welcome her sons home from college and spend more time with family. After the holiday, she enjoyed time at home and took a girls’ day trip to Napa with her best friend for a leisurely day of shopping and lunch.

“A week or so before I went back to work, my husband and I flew to Hawaii for a week. Once we landed on the Big Island, our goal was simply to check into our hotel, then figure out our plans each day as we went. It was a lot of fun. We purposely did not have an itinerary and just did whatever we felt like each day. We are usually so busy every day in life that I wanted this to be different. One day we would decide to hang out at the pool, maybe go to the beach, go on a little hike, it was perfect.”

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Upon returning, Sharon had a few days left of her time off to transition before coming back to work and organize some things around her home.

“Before I went on sabbatical, I had a few of my leaders give me their recommendations, which were very helpful. One was if you do have plans, go on your trip right away so you can disconnect. Disconnecting is probably the hardest part about sabbatical, so do it as quickly as you can. It seems like a long period of time, but it goes by fast. The second tip was not to come back on a Monday, but a Wednesday or Thursday instead, as it helps slowly transition you back. The third tip was not to get overwhelmed by all of the emails you missed. Maybe respond to messages from the last few days, and for the others, people will reach back out to you after you return.”

Lauren Bruno, Organizational Development and Learning Specialist, Consultant

Lauren has worked at Blue Shield for seven years. As a new mother who gave birth on May 20, 2023, she used her sabbatical to

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extend her maternity leave through the end of the year — taking some much needed time to welcome her newborn and adjust to motherhood before returning to work.

“It was so meaningful to have that time with family, watching my son grow and seeing all of his firsts. It’s challenging, but that gummy smile and those belly laughs make it all worth it.”

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After trying to conceive for five years, Lauren and her husband elected to try fertility treatments. Once they were down to their last embryo, Lauren conceived and their son, Elliston, joined their family.

“My husband and I were married at Elliston Vineyards winery, and when we were deciding on baby names we said, ‘What about Elliston?’ It’s unique and we liked it.”

After having a difficult pregnancy paired with postpartum preeclampsia, which caused her blood pressure to rise and become difficult to control, Lauren says she, “couldn’t imagine returning to work after six-weeks like many women must do. I faced significant recovery, and it wasn’t until my sabbatical came around that I was starting to feel a bit better.”

“It’s a great benefit and not something I’ve seen often. The uncertainties and stress of the past four years made it particularly important for me to have this time. If your sabbatical is coming up, utilize this time to connect with yourself and rediscover who you are, your purpose and values, not only in your career, but also your family and personal life. It’s rare to have the chance to take this long of a pause and fully embrace the time to self-reflect.”

Lauren says that upon returning to work, “I was feeling much better, refreshed, with a greater sense of work-life balance.” 

David Goldberg, Director, Health Transformation

David has worked at Blue Shield for seven years and took his sabbatical from mid-December through mid-January. He started his time off with a two-and-a-half-week trip to South Africa with his wife.

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“My wife is South African, and my brother-in-law lives there, so we stayed with him, and went on a safari for a couple nights. I had never been on a safari before, and it was unbelievable. We were in the Bush, surrounded by lions, giraffes, elephants and rhinos, almost within arm’s length. It just blew my mind. We were in a pack of elephants, then immersed in a pack of lions. We watched them as they preyed on a pack of impalas. It was crazy. I never thought I would see anything like it.”

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“South Africa is a beautiful country, and it was their summertime, so it was nice and warm. I played a lot of golf, which makes me happy.”

Upon returning from South Africa, David had the opportunity to go on a five-day road trip with his son, who is in college. “My brother-in-law had a car in Miami that he wanted to bring to Los Angeles, so my son and I flew to Miami, picked up the car, and drove it across country. We traveled through the south, went to New Orleans and visited the French Quarter, then to San Antonio and the Alamo. It was nice spending time with my son.”

David advises others as they plan their sabbaticals, “Make a commitment to totally unplug and step away, do not be tempted to look at emails. The time flies by.” 

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