There are countless benefits to taking a sabbatical, and an increasing body of evidence suggests that people should take them, and employers should encourage them. But knowing you should take one, and actually taking the steps to take it, are two very different things.
Whether you want to take a sabbatical for a “staycation” or use it to volunteer your skills overseas to build your experience, we hope these 9 steps will help you figure what you want to do.
1. A Background on Sabbaticals
Before jumping at a sabbatical, it’s important to know why they exist. The sabbatical actually traces back to the bible – the Sabbath. In modern times, it first became popular for academia in the late 1800’s as a way to “provide teachers for an opportunity for self-improvement.” Sabbaticals didn’t make it into the modern corporation until the latter half of the 19th century. Intel led the way on sabbaticals, sharing that sabbaticals did two things “allowing people time for revitalization and giving the employees who remain an opportunity for new challenges and growth“. In summary, sabbaticals are useful to help you – and the people around you – grow.
2. Figure Out Why You Want to Take a Sabbatical
Sabbaticals can help your career, but they can hurt it, too.
|How a Sabbatical Can HELP Your Career||How a Sabbatical Can HURT Your Career|
|To gain international experience||Taken at the wrong time (too early or late into a role)|
|Used to develop new skills||Not used intentionally to develop skills and experience|
|Rejuvenate you to help you be more creative||Used without proper buy-in from employer|
The first thing you should do is figure out WHY you want to take your sabbatical. If it’s merely to take a break, that’s OK, but that might make it hard to get buy-in from your employer. Commonly stated reasons are:
- Decompress, relax, and return rejuvenated to be a more engaged and productive
- Gain international experience in an area of strategic interest
- Build innovation and problem solving experience
- Learn and practice specific technical skills
3. Set a Goal Date for Taking a Sabbatical AND Tell Your Friends
Taking a sabbatical is a big step and preparing, going, and returning will challenge you in new and different ways. Engage your family and friends in the process so that they can support you, make connections, and help hold you accountable.
We also suggest putting the date on a calendar you see every day, on a stick-it note on your fridge or laptop, and/or other prompt in an obvious place so you don’t let the year fly by without taking the necessary steps to make it happen.
4. Determine What You Will Do on Your Sabbatical
After figuring out why you want to take a sabbatical, write out your goals and intentions. Yes, writing down your goals is important. In addition to your goals, outline how a specific sabbatical experience can actually help you achieve them:
1. Decompress, relax, and return rejuvenated to be a more engaged and productive
–> Take a health-cation, meditate, or travel in a relaxing environment
2. Gain international experience in an area of strategic interest
–> Live in a new and unique setting
3. Build career, innovation, and problem solving experience
–> Volunteer skills with startups, social enterprises, or social innovation projects at home or abroad
4. Learn and practice specific technical skills
–> Read, go to school, and/or take online courses to develop a new skills and put it to practice by working on a personal project or volunteering
Look for relevant stories of people (like Alonna or Nicole) that have taken a sabbatical, and show how this experience helped them. Services, like MovingWorlds.org, can help you find a meaningful sabbatical where you can make a difference while building your own skills and experiences. If you search for an opportunity on your own, consider these 8 factors when volunteering overseas.
Also, I recommend taking the Imperative.com assessment to help find your “Purpose Motive”, which your sabbatical might illicit and/or help you find.
5. Document the Benefits of Taking a Sabbatical For You AND for Your Company
As people and companies are so different, there is not a golden recipe for this. Do research on the benefits of sabbaticals, but also spend time talking to leaders of your organization across the business – like HR and recruiting leaders, – to brainstorm the benefits of taking a sabbatical. The following articles from NYTimes, INC, U.S. News, Personnel Today, and SHRM help articulate the benefits to employees and employers.
Also, take the time to think like your manager and leadership. Why would he/she care, or not care, about you taking a sabbatical?
|Why Your Manager Might Block Your Sabbatical Request||Why Your Manager Might Endorse Your Sabbatical Request|
|The company might not have a policy, and it might have legal / HR issues.||It will make your manager tell better stories for recruiting members to his/her team.|
|The manager doesn’t think they’ll be able to complete work without you.||It will give team members the opportunity to absorb new responsibilities to grow their own skills.|
|The manager might be worried about other members asking for sabbaticals and losing too many people.||It will help retain you as an employee, and the people around you, in the long-term.|
As additional support, watch this great TED Talk about the importance of taking a sabbatical called The Power of Time Off.
6. Find Someone At Your Company to Support Your Request
Don’t go at this alone. Whether it’s your mentor, coach, associate, or HR team member, find someone that you can discuss your plan with, and who can help you refine your approach in asking for a sabbatical. If nothing else, this person might end up as an accountability partner to help you make the ask and stick to your goals.
7. Ask Your Manager
There is no right or wrong way to ask your manager, but there is a process you should follow:
1. Have something to build on top of
Long before asking, make sure you are having development conversations with your manager. If you aren’t, start doing that right away. Here are some tips for that. Additionally, review this research, this HBR article, and this Forbes article.
2. Begin with the end in mind
Don’t just focus on the sabbatical, but also think through how your sabbatical will play out when you return. What do you want to learn? How will it help you in your career? How will it help your team? How will it help your company?
3. Setup a meeting
Use the email template below (in purple) to setup a meeting.
4. Prepare resources to share with your manager
Provide data about benefits of a sabbatical. YourSabbatical has lots on this. Also, prepare a documented sabbatical plan which you can bring to the meeting along with research as a leave-behind for your manager.
5. Follow-up on your meeting
Use the email template below (in green) to follow-up.
6. Sell, sell, sell
It’s unlikely that your first conversation will result in an approval. Set up more meetings, find other champions in the company, and be persistent – To sell is human!
Here’s a sample email to setup your meeting
Pursuant to our last development conversation, I’d like to discuss some potential growth opportunities for me. Can we have a chat over a coffee or beer and talk about my long-term development opportunities and career potential… and how to get there?
I have a few ideas, as well as a potentially big request, and look forward to hearing your thoughts and insight. How about coffee next ____ at _____ – drinks on me!
Here’s a sample email to follow-up on your meeting
Thank you for taking the time to discuss my hopes for a sabbatical. I know it’s a monumental ask and not necessarily an easy decision. As a summary, here are the benefits to our company, our team, and me.
- Company: As I intend to use my sabbatical to volunteer with social impact organizations, we can share the story with recruiting, marketing, and CSR teams about ways our company gives back and cares about its people (ref: INC article and FastCompany article). Also, it will give our employees new experience and help them develop, too (Personnel Today article).
- Me: This will help me develop skills that you’ve identified I should work on, including ____ and _____ (research on that here).
- Team: While this will likely mean extra work for all of us, research does indicate that it will give more members of the team the opportunity to stretch their own skills and collaborate on projects, which should help us create new insights and opportunities to be more efficient and effective (Society of Human Resource Management Professionals article).
Can we have a follow-up meeting in the next two weeks to discuss? In the meantime, please let me know any additional questions / concerns you have, and I’ll do additional homework to see if I can prove the case.
I do want to re-emphasize that I care about this company, my team, and my career here, and I truly feel that a sabbatical will be a great rejuvenating and skill development opportunity for me that will have a positive long-term impact for us all.
Thank you for considering my request,
8. Go On Your Sabbatical
Use a service like MovingWorlds.org to find a meaningful sabbatical or another of the #DoingMore partners. When deciding on what type of option to consider, read this previous article about 8 Factors to Consider When Finding a Match Overseas, and 7 Things I Wish I knew About Volunteering Overseas Before Spending a Year Doing It.
9. Report on the Benefits of the Sabbatical
Reflecting on your experience is proven to cement the key things you learn, and also make you happier. Not only will this help you retain the amazing things you’ve learned, but it will also help inspire others to follow in your footsteps. After completing, make sure to share your story with the following:
- Your team: Work with you manager to setup a “lunch-and-learn” where everyone can bring their lunch and listen to you give a presentation about your experience and the things you learned. Use your experience as a spark to discuss new ideas in your team.
- Your company’s HR team: Send them an update letting them know the work you did, how the company helped you do it, and express gratitude for the time off. Encourage them to use your story and pictures in recruiting collateral.
- Your company’s marketing team: Your marketing team might be considering cause-marketing programs. Showing them pictures of the work you did and stories from the field can be an asset and give you additional exposure.
- Your company’s CSR team: Let them know the hours you spend and the work you accomplished.
Whether you use MovingWorlds or not, contribute your story to the GOOD Magazine Collection here.
FAQs About Sabbaticals
What happens if my job is replaced while I’m on my sabbatical?
This is a possibility. Perhaps the company realizes your position isn’t as important or someone lower level can do it. There are two ways to think about this:
First: If the company does this, it sends a dangerous message of itself to other employees that it isn’t loyal to its employees, which is a major risk and why this probably won’t happen to you.
Second: If that’s the case, the job is doomed anyway, so better to rip the bandaid off.
What happens if my manager says no?
This is VERY possible. Take the time to understand your manager’s decision. Then, once you understand your manager’s decision, ask what you can do to be granted a sabbatical in the following year. If the manager is supportive of building a plan to get you there, then it’s a win for all parties. If the manager is dismissive, maybe it’s time to look for a new manager…
Will asking for a sabbatical hurt my career trajectory?
It shouldn’t. In fact, if you frame it the right way, in that by taking a sabbatical you’ll be a more productive, happier, and higher-performing, it should actually increase your career trajectory.
Where else can I find information on sabbaticals?
Here is a collection of information:
- A list of best companies to work for with sabbaticals from Fortune Magazine
- List of companies with sabbaticals from YourSabbatical
- eBook for negotiating a sabbatical
- Article: Benefits of a Career Break
- Article: Sabbaticals Pay Off
- Article: Negotiating a Sabbatical
- Article: More on Negotiating a Sabbatical
- Article on NYTimes: Planning for a Needed Break From Work
- Article on INC: Why Paid Sabbatical Are Good for Employees
- Article on CNN: Companies that Pay You to Take a Break
- Article on US News: How to Negotiate a Sabbatical
- Article on Personnel Today: Benefits of Taking a Sabbatical
Taking a sabbatical is a major life step that has massive potential to benefit you, and the people around you. Design your sabbatical with intention, be very selective, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And if you have additional tips or your own stories, please do share in the comments below!
[UPDATE] Here are some other great articles for inspiration:
- Pruning the Oak Tree: How My Sabbatical Benefitted Everyone
- A Sabbatical saved my career and probably my life
- Cure for Office Burnout: Mini Sabbaticals
- How Taking A Sabbatical Isn’t As Impossible As It Sounds
- Why You Should Pay Employees To Take A Sabbatical
- Want To Be More Creative? Take A Break From Your Job
- 6 Reasons Why Every Leader Needs A Sabbatical
- Conquer Fear, Dream a Little, and Go on That Sabbatical
- These people took months off … and it paid off big time
- Gap year for grown-ups?
- How to design a business sabbatical