Burned out? Try taking a few months off to study polar bears on the Canadian tundra.
That's what Mara Baranson did.
After 10 years at J.P. Morgan & Co., Ms. said she needed a break.
"You get so patterned by certain ways of thinking that you find you need to step out of the box," she said. "I needed to stimulate the sides of my brain that hadn't been challenged."
Career experts say short, periodic sabbaticals from a high-pressure job can help reduce the tendency to burn out and leave an industry altogether.
"It gives a person the opportunity to recharge the batteries," said psychologist Jeffrey A. Goldberg, who runs Personnel Services Center, a career counseling firm in New York.
"They come back refreshed and can view their jobs in a more objective way," Mr. Goldberg said.
Last October, Ms. Baranson negotiated a three-month unpaid leave of absence. She left her job on a Friday, and "on Sunday, I got on a plane and headed for Manitoba."
There was no guarantee that her job as a vice president of market research would be there when she got back. But Ms. Baranson said she had few reservations about going forward with her long-planned break from the work force.
"It's something I had in the back of my mind-that if I was still here (at Morgan) after 10 years, I would do this," she said.
J.P. Morgan, like other large U.S. banks, has a detailed employee leave policy. At Morgan, employees can take up to 12 weeks off, but many use the time as paid maternity leave, said a spokesman.
Certainly, unpaid leaves are not common in the industry. Only a few bankers contacted for this article could recall a colleague who had taken unpaid time off to follow a hobby or another pursuit.
At Chase Manhattan Corp., one vice president recently departed for a three-month stint in Paris. At Bankers Trust New York Co., a securities trader negotiated a leave so he could study in Israel.
More frequently, said executive recruiters, bankers are apt to leave the industry permanently. "We usually see the young bankers or traders who are stepping out of the game and don't plan to come back," said one recruiter, who asked not to be named.
Ms. Baranson, an avowed animal lover with a yen for adventure and an interest in photography, picked the polar bear tour because it combined all three.
The trip began in Churchill, Manitoba, on the western shore of Hudson Bay. At the time, the snow had not begun to fall, and the polar bears were gathered to wait for the bay to freeze over for the winter, Ms. Baranson said.
Days and nights were spent inside a vehicle that Ms. Baranson likened to a train car with large rubber wheels. The group-the tour takes up to 35 people-wandered every day looking for polar bears, arctic foxes, and other wildlife to photograph, venturing outside periodically under heavy guard.
At night, the group camped, listened to guest speakers, observed the polar bears roaming around in the dark, and admired the Northern Lights.
Ms. Baranson kept a journal during her travels. "When you're working, you get in a routine, and you don't stop to ask if you're doing what you want to do," she said. "I wanted to reassure myself that I was."
When she returned to the United States, Ms. Baranson took off on an extended car trip across several states, visiting friends she had not seen in a while. The leave was capped off with a trip to the pyramids in Egypt and a ride down the Nile River.
The terms of Ms. Baranson's leave said she could come back, but she would not necessarily get the same job, or any job. Ms. Baranson landed a position as vice president in mergers and acquisitions for J.P. Morgan's investment bank, and has worked there since February.
"It was a seamless transition, and it allowed me to take a more interesting, challenging job," she said, of her leave. "It's been a very positive experience."