Asking for a career break is rarely easy, but a sabbatical offers more than a chance for you to recharge. Time away can be a vital opportunity for a company to identify stress points, reduce expenses, and test aspiring leaders before they move up.
In fact, we advise that you don’t position a sabbatical as a career break at all, but part of your career progression. It’s something worth keeping in mind throughout the process to argue your case successfully. What are you both getting out of the experience?
Find out if there’s a precedent for sabbaticals
Firstly, let’s get our definitions straight. A sabbatical is an agreed upon break, for a certain amount of time, for personal development. You’re still an employee of the company during the period, even if you’re not being paid (unless you have a very generous employer!). A sabbatical will typically be six months to a year, but there are no hard or fast rules on this. You may decide to travel or gain a new skill or qualification. Whatever the reason, a sabbatical must make good business sense for your company.
It’s possible that your company already has an official policy for sabbaticals, so have a look through your employee handbook. If you can’t find the answer, there might be a member of staff that you can ask in confidence, such as an HR officer. It’s essential to establish an honest, open dialogue with your employer about taking sabbatical leave, but while you’re still figuring out your game plan, it’s best they don’t hear about it through the grapevine, the longer you’ve worked there, the more likely they are to say yes.
Show the value of a sabbatical
Ask yourself, what are you hoping to achieve from your sabbatical? Be honest about what you want to change when you return. If you’re desperate to get away from work, there are likely bigger problems at hand that you need to address. Don’t pull the trigger. A sabbatical is not a magical reset button for burnout or job dissatisfaction, but a great opportunity that demands a resound business case. Think carefully about the risks for your career, as well as from your employer’s perspective. Be prepared to answer hard questions. What value would the break bring to the company? While every organization is different, and you’ll have to tailor the case yourself, here are four common benefits to giving an employee a sabbatical:
They’ll save money
Without having to make anyone redundant, the company will save money by having one less employee to pay for a set period. They also won’t be obliged to give you a raise if you’re away during the annual pay review, neither will they have to contribute to your pension.
They won’t have to pay for the additional skills you learn
In return for granting you a sabbatical they’ll receive a more talented employee for free. You’ll be funding any course or volunteering yourself, but any soft or technical skills you learn will enable you to do your job better. Who knows, a qualification you gained on your sabbatical may enable you to take on a more senior role that the company have been struggling to fill.
They’ll foster greater retention and loyalty
Even at a conservative estimate, replacing a highly skilled employee costs thousands of pounds and can take as long as three months. By investing in your personal development, you’re more likely to return as a refreshed and happier employee. The prospect of sabbatical leave is also a great motivator for retention. As most companies require a minimum length of service before an employee is eligible, staff are more likely to stick around to chase the proverbial carrot.
They’ll gain a powerful brand advocate
Don’t undersell the power of social recruitment. With social media, every employee is a potential marketer. Show your boss examples of viral posts online, where a thankful employee shares a positive story about their employer investing in their personal development and work-life balance. These sorts of posts can rack up hundreds of thousands of views and are invaluable for an organization’s Employer Value Proposition (EVP).
Build a company network that will support your sabbatical
Before even broaching the topic of sabbaticals, we can’t stress enough the importance of establishing allies at work. Not only will this make your request for leave more likely to be accepted, but you’ll also enjoy thesabbatical more knowing that you there are people in your corner willing to advocate on your behalf. By investing time in your work relationships, you’ll also be in better stead to ask your colleagues to help cover you while you’re on sabbatical leave. This will save the company the time and expense of hiring a temp or contractor and, beneficially, they’ll already know the ropes.
Top tips to network with your colleagues:
Welcome newcomers and help organize their onboarding.
Make the most of lunch invites and after-work drinks.
Take 15 minutes a week to have a one-on-one catch up with each team member over coffee.
Connect on LinkedIn, engage with their posts, and validate their skills.
Demonstrate your value to an employer
It’s natural to worry that you may not be missed during sabbatical leave. There’s a fine balance between establishing everything can run smoothly without you for a brief period (thanks to your careful planning) and that you’re still an essential part of the company.
Our advice? Build strong relationships with suppliers and clients, make your contributions visible, and show concern for your employer’s well-being:
Going the extra mile for a client will really make a difference during a sabbatical; they’ll be some of your biggest advocates (or detractors). When you won’t be there to speak for yourself, a client’s impression of you will profoundly impact whatever your employer thinks.
Volunteer for the tasks no-one else wants to do. Volunteering to make a dreaded pitch will go some way within your team, but working regularly with other departments to help them achieve their goals will demonstrate your value to the wider organization.
Prepare good cover suggestions. Is there a particular colleague who can step up in an interim period and gain some great experience? Or, can you oversee hiring a temporary replacement by helping draft a job specification or participating in the hiring process?
Ask for your sabbatical and enjoy it!
Congratulations, you’ve done all the hard work, research and made a resounding business case that your employer couldn’t ignore. Make sure you get your agreement in writing, including the conditions of your absence and your return. Once you’re on sabbatical leave – enjoy it!This time is for your personal development. To make the most of a sabbatical while maintaining a positive, professional relationship with your employer, we recommend that you consider three points of action during your leave:
Create boundaries, not blocks
A sabbatical isn’t a holiday, so reassure your team that you’ll be contactable throughout your leave when necessary. Set your Out-of-Office with clear instructions on how and when you’ll be available. By providing a lifeline, you’ll still be considered a crucial player in the company and your employer will know they can count on your support.
Consider ‘Keeping in Touch’ Days (KITs)
Similarly to what you might take during paternity or maternity leave, KITs enable you to stay in contact with your employer while helping you prepare returning to work. If you can, why not schedule a few days throughout your sabbatical leave where you’ll pop into the office in person to work or a pre-scheduled virtual meeting?
Write a presentation for your return
Do your boss a favor and prepare a strong presentation of what you learned on your sabbatical. They’re sure to get a few employees asking if they can follow suit.
If you’re considering quitting your job for the sake of a sabbatical, ask yourself why you’re so desperate to go – it might be time to seek some professional career advice and make a move.
If you’d like professional advice on how to navigate a sabbatical, whether you’re a client or candidate, contact the Phaidon International team today.