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How to plan a sabbatical: the employed

A sabbatical is a chance to regain direction, motivation and focus. Yes, you may be able to tick off a bucket list item or two along the way, but it’s usually about more than this alone.

In this three part series I discuss 5 crucial steps individuals need to take if they want to maximise sabbatical success. The nature of your employment dictates the nature of these steps. In this first part I look at the sabbatical process for employed professionals and managers. In parts 2 and 3 I explain about the sabbatical process for the self-employed.


Taking a sabbatical when employed


1. Pay, policies and principles

When your thoughts of a sabbatical are still in their infancy, you need to find out if your employer has a sabbatical policy.

Many larger businesses will have a sabbatical policy. It may be paid or unpaid. Length can vary and may be dependent on your length of service and position in the company. Paid sabbaticals may also be available if you use the time in a way supported by the business (such as specific training), or in their long-term interests.

There may be no policy in place. This is when your negotiation skills will need to be top notch. I’ll come on to how to speak to your employer in step 4.

In line with the possibilities, or even hopes, sit down and do some sums. Work out roughly what your sabbatical plans will cost you per week and work out how much money you’ll need to continue meeting your financial responsibilities.


2. Work out the why

Next you really need to consider why you want to take a sabbatical. If your motivation is coming from a place of simply not liking your job, a sabbatical isn’t the answer, a job or career change is.

There are so many different reasons why people take sabbaticals. Often the reasons are mixed. You may want to pursue a volunteering project, develop new skills, travel or spend more time with family.

What matters is that you are crystal clear on what the ‘why’ is for you. This will help you convince your employer, plan your time, and maximise success.


3. Think about your cover and return to work

Before you go and speak to your employer, you need to have done some thinking about this from the business’s perspective. How will your work continue with minimal disruption? How will this be funded? Whose responsibility will it be? When you return, how will the employer benefit from your time off? When should absence be avoided (e.g. an accountant at Year End)?

Consider options such as dividing up your work with others, or offering a secondment from elsewhere, as well as hiring temporary cover.

Think also about whether your employer will be concerned about setting a precedent. If so, consider how this can be managed so that you can address their concerns.


4. Speak to your employer

Finally you’re ready to speak to your employer. If you speak to them before completing the steps above, they will most likely give an outright ‘no’.

With your reasoning clear in your mind, and your understanding of how this will affect the business (and how you will mitigate that), it’s time to approach them.

Again, things will be easier here if there is a clear sabbatical policy which you are following. However, all requests will require some degree of negotiation.

Be positive. Talk about how this benefits you and the employer, not what you want to get away from. Maybe you will expand skills, return reenergised, better understand international markets or allow the company to cut some short-term costs.

You need reassurance that your job (along with its current terms and conditions) will be there in the same way when you return. Your employer does not legally have to give you this legal protection, so realise that the negotiations are on you. Display your commitment to the business in the long term, explain your intentions to return, and how you won’t be moonlighting with a competitor!

Give as much notice as you can and be flexible; you may have to adapt your plans.


5. Prep, prep, prep

With your employer on board, it’s back to the planning table. Get your employer’s decision and terms in writing, including clear start and end dates, as well as a guarantee that your position remains open until your return.


Then it’s time to get on to the practicalities of arranging cover, working out handovers and planning for the sabbatical itself.


Taking a sabbatical is an opportunity for growth, enrichment and recharging. Making the decision and getting the most from your sabbatical plans requires support. Find out more about how transformational coaching can help with your sabbatical planning by getting in touch.

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