A question that often comes up when I’m talking to people about planning a grown-up gap year is “how exactly do I ask for a sabbatical?”
And that’s a really good question. Often people think that making their own decision about whether to quit their job or take a sabbatical is the most difficult part, but actually the hurdle can often be getting the company you work for to agree to it.
That’s why I think it’s really important to be strategic in the way you go about asking for a sabbatical. Sure, you could just march up to the person in charge and demand one, but you’re much more likely to have a successful outcome if you go about it in a more thoughtful way.
The main thing you’ve got to bear in mind when asking for a sabbatical is keeping things as straight-forward as possible for your organisation. Bosses and HR teams are busy people. The last thing they need is employees who make spur of the moment requests to take a sabbatical, without thinking through any of the implications.
But with a little bit of thought and planning it is really easy to make a strong case for a break from work.
So here’s my five easy steps to ask for a sabbatical:
1. Check your company’s policy on sabbaticals
Nowadays some companies offer their employees the opportunity to take a sabbatical after they have been with the business for a certain number of years. It’s worth looking at your contract or speaking to HR to find out whether this is the case in your organisation. It may also be worth thinking about when you accept a job offer, if taking a sabbatical is something you know you would definitely like to do in the future.
If you have fulfilled the time requirement of working for the organisation, then speak to HR to find out what the next steps are. Do you need to make a formal application? Do you need to speak to your line manager? Whatever the process is, make sure you follow it correctly.
If there is no formal sabbatical procedure at your company then you can still request one. Just because nobody has asked for a sabbatical before, doesn’t mean that they will say no. But again, you need to make sure you build a strong case for taking one.
2. Think about what you want from a sabbatical
Why do you want to take a sabbatical? Is it because you’re feeling stressed and you need a break from work? Is it because it’s something you’ve always wanted to do and you think you’ll regret it if you don’t do it now? Or do you want to mark a certain stage in your life?
Whatever the reason, be clear in your head about why you want to ask for a sabbatical and why now is the right time to do it.
Another thing to consider is how long you want to take. This could be affected by many things, such as what you’re planning to do during your sabbatical and how much money you have saved.
You also need to find out whether your sabbatical is paid or unpaid. Companies offer both kinds of sabbaticals and some will do a mixture of both, depending on how long you’re planning to be away for (for example, the first month paid and then up to two months unpaid).
3. Make your case for a sabbatical
Once you have decided exactly what it is you want from a sabbatical, put everything in writing. How long are you requesting? How could your job be done in your absence? What skills do you feel you will learn while you are away? When do you plan to return to work?
Be reasonable about the time-frame when you ask for a sabbatical. Give your organisation plenty of notice so that they can plan for your cover. If you’re just intending to go away for a short spell, think about when would be the most convenient time for your company to do that. Requesting time off at your busiest time of year is not going to win you many fans.
This step is particularly important if your company doesn’t usually offer sabbaticals. Basically make sure your case includes anything that you feel supports your decision to ask for a sabbatical.
4. Speak to your boss
Once you feel like you have a strong case for asking for a sabbatical, approach your boss. Speak to them about your plans, including why you want to take a sabbatical and why you feel like now is a good time. Explain how you see your role being handled while you are away and how you intend to help make the transition smoother.
Getting your boss onside is really important. They can then support your case with HR and also help you to explain it to other members of staff.
5. Help to organise your handover and plan for your return
These aren’t so much tips about asking for a sabbatical, but they will help to make the process of you leaving smoother and will make your return easier.
Speak to your boss about who is best suited to help out with your workload while you are away. If your sabbatical is just going to be a few weeks, there might be some projects that can be put on hold, but there may be some day-to-day stuff that needs handing over.
However, if you are taking a longer break, then it is likely your work will need to be covered by someone while you are away.
If your company regularly allows sabbaticals, there might already be protocols in place for this. But if not, you may be required to help to put some in place.
Once it’s been established who will cover for you, do whatever you can to help them. Organise a meeting to explain the job to them and to give them a chance to ask any questions about the role. That way there will be less resentment than if someone just gets everything dumped on them.
Remember, these people will still be your colleagues when you return from your sabbatical. So it’s nice not to drop them in the deep end.
Likewise, try to talk to other colleagues about your sabbatical and explain why you’re taking it. It’s good to get them on side with your plans, so that it doesn’t cause any awkwardness within the company.
Hopefully if you follow these five easy steps, you’ll be well on the way to getting that sabbatical you dream off. However, if you’re not entitled to take a sabbatical, or your request for a sabbatical is turned down, then there are still other options available to you. You could take a career break if you’re happy to step away from your job altogether. Or if you don’t feel comfortable with that, you can work out ways to maximise your annual leave allowance.
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