How to Ask For a Sabbatical in 2016 (even if your company doesn’t have a program)

Mark Horoszowski

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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.

Building off our popular 2015 guide on How to Ask for a Sabbatical in 2015, this new and improved guide shares 8 steps to help you ask for a sabbatical in 2016 so you can take the time off to achieve your personal and professional goals — even if your company doesn’t have a formal sabbatical program.

Step 1: Write Down Why Your Sabbatical Will Help You

First things first, there is a big difference between quitting your job and taking a sabbatical. If you can prove to your employer that time off isn’t just an escape, but that it will actually help you get ahead, then you can get time away without losing your position. Here are some reasons that your company might agree with:

  1. Decompress, relax, and return rejuvenated to be a more engaged and productive
  2. Gain international experience in an area of strategic interest
  3. Build innovation and problem solving experience
  4. Learn and practice specific technical skills

By writing it down you’ll have a document that helps you center your thoughts, and that you can share with others who you’ll need to convince to let you take a sabbatical.

 

Step 2: Set a Goal Date for Taking a Sabbatical and Tell Your Friends

People who write down their goals are more likely to achieve them. So write your target date down and tell your friends. Make sure it’s in an obvious place, like on your fridge or on your calendar. By telling your friends, you’ll also build an informal accountability and support circle.

 

Step 3: Determine What You Will Do on Your Sabbatical

Before asking for a sabbatical from your boss, it’s best to explain what you’ll actually be doing, and how it will help you achieve the goal you listed in step 1.

Need inspiration? Look for relevant stories of people (like Alonna or Nicole) that have taken a sabbatical, and show how this experience helped them. Also, I suggest that you take the Imperative.com assessment to help find your “Purpose Motive”, which your sabbatical might illicit and/or help you find. Now is also a great time to watch Stegan Sagmeister’s talk about The Power of Time Off

Step 4: Document How Your Sabbatical Will Help YOU and YOUR COMPANY

Ultimately, your company will be most likely to grant you a sabbatical if it believes the outcomes of it will positively affect both of you. By writing down what you hope to do, and how it will also help the company, you will build a strong case to take a sabbatical. Here are some things to consider before writing your ideas down:

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.

This earlier article titled “Pruning the Oak Tree: How My Sabbatical Benefitted Everyone” shares some additional insights, as does this article on Personnel Today which can help you articulate the benefits your employer.

 

Step 5: 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.

 

Step 6: Ask Your Manager for a Sabbatical

There is no right or wrong way to ask your manager, but here is a process you should follow:

  1. Have something to build on top of: Namely that you have had previous conversations about your personal and professional development.
  2. Begin with the end mind: Focus on the impact you will make after returning, not just what you will do while away.
  3. Setup a meeting with your manager: Follow the email templates towards the bottom of this other post as a guide.
  4. Prepare resources to share with your manager: Provide data about the benefits of a sabbatical on an easy-to-read one-pager, along with your personal goals and desired action. YourSabbatical has lots on this.
  5. Follow-up on your meeting: Send a follow-up email after your meeting. Here is an email template.
  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

Hi _____,

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

Hi ______,

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.

  1. 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).
  2. Me: This will help me develop skills that you’ve identified I should work on, including ____ and _____ (research on that here).
  3. 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,

-Name

Step 7: Go On Your Sabbatical

Go on your own or with a partner. Take lots of pictures. Document your experience. If you do something related to volunteering, work, or learning, create a portfolio (aka case study) of your work that you can show others when you return.

don't-do-it-now-quote-mark-twain

 

Step 8: Reflect and Report on the Benefits of Your Sabbatical

After completing your sabbatical, make sure to share your story with the following:

  • Yourself: Reflecting on your experience is proven to help make you happier and remember it more fondly.
  • Your team: Work with your manager to schedule a “lunch-and-learn”. 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: Showing pictures of the work you did and stories from the field can be an asset for cause-marketing initiatives.
  • Your company’s CSR team: Let them know the hours you spent and the work you accomplished.

 

In Summary

It’s not easy to ask for time off, but doing so has massive potential to help you and your company. So in 2016, I hope you’ll follow these simple steps to get started on the path to taking that sabbatical you’ve always dreamed of.

And if you have questions, or a great story, I’d love to hear about it: @markhoroszowski

 

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