What do you do when you feel demotivated and out of energy at work for months? Most people would probably try to power through and hope it will get better with time. 

You might also think about changing your job but what if you don’t know what you should do next? Ever browsed through job offers and felt like nothing sounds interesting to you?

Here is our suggestion: Walk away. Yes, that’s right. Take some time off for a while.

While in the past, a gap in your CV would be viewed as career suicide, companies increasingly recognise the benefits of sabbaticals for their employees. Studies have shown the benefits of sabbaticals.

Today 1 out of 4 Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For offer sabbatical programs because they understand the positive effects of time off for their staff and company’s well-being. 

We have previously written an extensive article about Why Taking 1 Year from Work will Improve your Career Prospects.

While sabbaticals are becoming increasingly popular, taking extended time off from work to rethink some big personal questions might still be a big request from your employer.

Before we dive in to the 7 step of how to convince your employer to give you an 18 months sabbatical, let’s first look why you should pursue such a long break at all.

Why you should take a sabbatical instead of a long vacation

Physical recovery from stress takes time. 

Mental relaxation takes time. 

You need to get out of your own head for a while. 

Most of the time regular vacation days are not sufficient. As soon as you’re able to let go of the stress and the demands of your everyday routine, it’s already time to prepare yourself to return to all that busyness of your daily life. Your mind can never really stand still.

An effective real way to create the necessary mind space to let go and find yourself again is through travel.

When Anastasia and I decided it’s time to turn our dream of traveling the world into reality, I knew I needed to get my company to give me a sabbatical. 

I wanted to keep financial security for the time after our return but I also knew that it won’t be easy to convince my employer to give me such a long time off from work. The longest possible duration of an unpaid sabbatical at my company was 6 months for my situation.

I convinced my employer to agree to an unpaid sabbatical of 18 months. 

Here’s how I got my employer to approve my 18 months break from work.

7 Steps Guide of how to get your employer to approve a long sabbatical

Step 1: Make a concrete time proposal

Let’s start with this nasty one first. Probably the idea of a sabbatical has been swirling in your head already for quite a while. Am I right?

Let me guess. You’re not sure when you should do it. It’s hard to find the right timing. 

Unfortunately (or fortunately for that matter), here comes the bummer. There’s never a right time. 

We asked sabbatical coach Susie Chau from Carpe Diem Traveler about the right timing of applying for a sabbatical. She summarised it perfectly:

“The stars will not fully align ever. Things are not going to be perfect. If you’re saying it’s not the right time, the next question is ‘WHEN will be the right time?’ It’s rather a matter of finding a good time.”

You need to think about 2 things:

  • How long do you ideally want to take off?
  • When do you want to leave?

Don’t be shy. Think about the best option for you first. It’s your life and your life time that you’re planning here. Your proposal needs to be plausible for you company but this is something you can think about later in the negotiation phase.

Step 2: Check your company policy

The second step is to check what your company officially states about sabbaticals.

Does your company have a fix procedure in place of how to apply for sabbaticals? What are the requirements for taking a sabbatical? How long is it typically allowed to be?

Make sure you know the in’s and out’s of taking a sabbatical in your company well before you speak with your employer.

Do you know or have you heard of co-workers that have taken sabbaticals? Schedule a coffee with them and ask about their experience. You might learn something that will help your own application.

Your company doesn’t have a sabbaticals policy or the typical sabbatical duration is too short for you? Don’t worry. 

There is room for negotiation and understanding the general policy will help your negotiation process tremendously because you know the facts. 

Step 3: Write down WHY you want to take a sabbatical

First of all, you’ll need to have a clear and convincing story in place about why it’s the right decision for you and your company that you take a sabbatical.

Let’s take a look at the original definition and purpose of a sabbatical.

The concept of the sabbatical is rooted in the bible. Every seven years, a sabbath year was ordered to give the land a break from agricultural activity. 

Similarly, our minds need rest to be able to continue to grow and flourish.

Make a list why it’s your time to take a break from your work activity. Write down what made you consider taking a sabbatical.

This will be your opening pitch to your manager. You don’t need to elaborate on all your personal issues and self-finding questions here. That’s not the idea. 

Rather, keep yourself short and determined in your pitch. 

For example, you want to take time to recharge and regain your mojo… Or you want to focus on personal development… Or you finally want to go for that bucket list dream of doing something out of the ordinary like traveling the world. You see, there are many possibilities.

Step 4: Create a pitch about what you expect to get out of your sabbatical

This is the most important step in this list. If there is one thing you take away from this article, make sure it’s this one.

Your employer needs to be convinced that taking a sabbatical will benefit you in your work role as well as your company as a whole. Granting you a sabbatical is an investment for your employer. Make sure the return of the investment is clear and attractive enough.

Get creative here. Think of as many ideas as possible. You can always filter later.

Make a list of all personal achievements you expect to gain during your sabbatical and turn them into professional goals. Any new competences and skills you can think of that will benefit you in your work after your return.

Don’t forget the intangible benefits! Returning relaxed and reenergised can be a great plus point for your team. You might improve your organisational skills, increase your creativity, or practice your leadership skills.

Give your employer good reasons why you will come back much stronger than before.

Step 5: Think how your sabbatical will affect your projects and team & come up with a mitigation plan

By taking a sabbatical you’re giving your superior the task of organising a replacement for you during your time off. This means additional work to his or her already packed schedule. Take initiative and come up with a mitigation plan.

If your work is project based, how can you finish your tasks before taking the sabbatical? If you have an operational role, who can you delegate your responsibilities to? Also, how will you pick up your work when you return?

Think about all these questions before you discuss your sabbatical plans with your employer. You don’t need to have perfect answers, but you need to show that you gave this topic serious thoughts and that the wellbeing of your company is important to you.

Step 6: Discuss your sabbatical plans in a meeting with your manager

This is where it gets serious. You need to send that meeting invite to your manager. Just do it, rip it off your to do it like a sticky plaster.

During your meeting you should discuss all the points we went through above. Here is a suggestion for a meeting outline.

  1. Thank your manager for taking the time to meet you.
  2. Explain that the purpose of the meeting is to discuss the possibility of taking a sabbatical.
  3. Give some background to your idea by stating the reasons why you wish to take a sabbatical. Explain why a sabbatical is a good solution for you.
  4. Explain what you expect to get out of your time off and how it will benefit you and the company after your return. Be as concrete as possible.
  5. State how long the sabbatical should be for achieving the intended benefits. Give your proposed start date
  6. Discuss how you suggest to organise your work while you’re gone by explaining your mitigation plan.
  7. Ask your manager for feedback.
  8. Agree on a follow up plan.

Step 7: Get your manager to be your partner in talking to HR

Getting a GO from your manager is mostly the first big step of getting your sabbatical approved. What needs to follow is the formal approval from Human Resources as official representatives of your company. Your first line manager will typically be the one to start the official approval process. 

If your company has a clear sabbatical policy and your situation and intended sabbatical period is in line with the company requirements, this step will be quite forward.

However, if your company doesn’t have an official sabbatical regulation or your sabbatical  does not conform to the standard rules, you will need to make your manager an ally in your negotiations with HR. 

If your manager values your contribution to the company highly enough to agree to hold your position until after your return, he or she should not have any issues in convincing HR that it is the best decision for the company to keep you as an employee.

Ask your manager if you can support him or her in this process and fulfil the actions of the agreed follow up plan within set time lines.

If you have more questions about sabbaticals or wonder how you can take a sabbatical, leave us a comment and we’ll be happy to discuss your personal situation with you.

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