When is a sabbatical not a sabbatical?

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By some strange coincidence, more and more senior bankers are apparently opting to spend six months stamp collecting or studying Ancient Greek.

The S word has been spoken at both Citi and JPMorgan. Kamel Tabet, a senior Citi banker, is taking a sabbatical for an unspecified period of time. And Klaus Diederichs, head of European investment banking at JPMorgan, is off for six months.

Tabet and Diederichs may find the Ancient Greek classes already full with bankers who've had the same idea. Rob Munro, head of European prime brokerage at UBS, took an "extended sabbatical" in March - as did Nick Holtby, head of cash trading and execution at UBS.

There are many bankers who have gone on sabbatical never to be seen again (take Sean Notley and Kenneth Steele at Morgan Stanley, or Rob Lichten at JPMorgan).

There are others, however, who do return and say that stamp collecting cleared their mind.

"It's a lovely thing to do if you can make it work," says one. "The vast majority of sabbaticals are requested by employees, and the employer agrees simply to keep hold of people they like and value on a long-term basis.

"However, a sabbatical isn't really a sabbatical if you have no intention or option of going back to your current employer," he muses.

Sabbatical contagion seems very likely. "We've reached the stage of the cycle where people start thinking about taking some time out," says Brian Hamill, chairman of search firm Redgrave Partners. "In private equity, where funds have large amounts of uninvested cash, there's a growing feeling that it's worth taking six months off until valuations come down - it's no good pushing water uphill."

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