Everything You Should Know About Taking a Sabbatical

Updated August 12, 2022

On most occasions, organizations give sabbatical leave to their employees upon completing a certain number of years in service. It's separate from other kinds of leave, such as medical, parental, maternity and study leave. Depending on the company policy, a sabbatical can either be paid or unpaid. In this article, we explore the common reasons for taking a sabbatical, the benefits of taking a sabbatical, how to take a sabbatical from work, how sabbatical leave works and timing your sabbatical leave.

What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a break from work and is a period during which an employee can pursue their interests, such as volunteering, research, writing, travelling or other activities. During a sabbatical, an individual remains an employee of their organization, though they neither report to work nor perform their regular job duties. This is a common practice in educational institutions. For instance, a professor may decide to take a sabbatical for a semester or two to conduct some research in their field of specialization or teach at a foreign university.

Common reasons for taking a sabbatical

The reasons employees take sabbatical change throughout the different stages of their career and are often specific to the circumstance. Some common reasons include:

  • Desire to pursue a journey of self-discovery

  • Training for a new career

  • Wanting to participate in a volunteer program to give back to society

  • Need to spend time with family

  • Desire to recharge or take a break from regular work

  • Wanting to travel to seek adventure

  • Wanting to reconnect with nature

  • Aspiring to expand the current network

  • Wishing to complete other personal goals

Generally, sabbatical leave provides employees with extended time off, allowing them to explore one or more of the above options. It's up to you to decide what to do with your sabbatical, provided it's best for your career and life.

Benefits of sabbatical leave

For employers

It is quite advantageous for employers to offer their employees sabbatical leave. Some benefits include the promotion of the employer brand, readiness for unexpected absences, succession planning stress tests and increased wellbeing.

  • Employer brand: The option to take a sabbatical is a nice perk for current employees and candidates seeking employment at the company. It shows that the employer cares about their workforce and that they reward loyalty. It can make a significant difference when a candidate compares your company to another.

  • Readiness for unexpected absences: It's never a good thing for the workforce to be overly dependent on one or more individuals. Having employees go on a sabbatical pushes teams and the management to prepare accordingly for long absences. This allows for a usual continuity of business even when an individual eventually leaves.

  • Succession planning stress test: when, for example, an executive leader in an organization takes a sabbatical, it primarily offers a good test for the entire organizational leadership. It provides aspiring leaders with an opportunity to grow. Such leaders can use this time to demonstrate their management skills even as they take on new responsibilities. This stress testing can pave the way for company succession planning and adjustments can be made along the way when necessary.

  • Increased wellbeing: the organization as a whole benefits immensely from the fact that its employees are well and remain well long after they have resumed work following sabbatical leave. People who feel good are naturally more productive and will go a long way in positively impacting their colleagues and the entire organization. They are also less likely to be absent from work themselves.

For employees

Sabbaticals are equally beneficial to employees.

  • Increased wellbeing: most employees attest to the fact that their overall well-being improves immensely when they return to work after taking a sabbatical. This is especially true if the employee spent their sabbatical outside their habitual residential environment.

  • Increased psychological resources: usually, when an individual comes back after a sabbatical, they tend to have increased psychological resources, such as increased energy, independence, a sense of control, good health and increased professional knowledge.

  • Less stress: it's not uncommon that upon returning to the workplace following a sabbatical leave, an employee tends to be less stressed and more motivated to work.

Related: Benefits of Taking a Break from Work to Reduce Stress

How to take a sabbatical from work

You need to make a plan of action before taking a sabbatical. The following steps should guide you in taking a sabbatical.

1. Talk to your employer about sabbatical leave

It would help you to start by talking about the policy on sabbatical leave with your employer. Certain restrictions may be in place, and there may be a set number of years that an individual must have completed before applying for a sabbatical. Having a conversation with your employer will help them draw all these points to your attention. Still, if the company policies do not provide for extended leave as an employment perk, inquire from your employer about other ways you can take extended leave.

If the company still has no other kind of extended leave options, you may take it upon yourself to prepare a statement outlining how a sabbatical could be beneficial both to the employer and the employee. You might include reasons such as how it would enable you to return to work with a project or extra research that benefits the company, give you the chance to improve job-specific skills or help the company cut costs temporarily.

2. Make preparations for yourself

Be clear on the amount of time you wish to take off from work so your employer can approve your sabbatical leave request. Also, consider what financial planning you need to do to cushion this unpaid period if the company policy provides unpaid leave. You need to set up a dedicated savings account and set aside as much money as possible. This typically requires you to plan at least a year in advance.

Related: Tips for Planning a Budget (And How to Create One)

If you'll be travelling for six months or more, it may be best for you to consider moving into temporary rented accommodation or, alternatively, you could look at renting out your home while you're away. This way, you'll avoid paying dearly for accommodation you won't be using while you're not there. Consider cutting costs anywhere you possibly can.

3. Make preparations for your workplace

Before leaving, you should make arrangements with your employer to ensure that the company is not left to suffer in your absence. This may include completing specific tasks before your scheduled leave, designating another employee to handle emergencies on your behalf, and delegating your work. Also, consider working with them to come up with a plan to get back up to speed once you return.

Related: Delegation Strategies for the Workplace (With Tips)

How sabbatical leave works

If you qualify for sabbatical leave, following the guidelines set in place by your company, you will likely need to register your request several months in advance. If your request meets the stringent requirements, your employer will approve your sabbatical leave. When this happens, the company will make arrangements to replace the employee on sabbatical for as long as they are absent. Alternatively, the employer may decide to divide the employee's duties and responsibilities among other team members who will still be available.

Companies have specific rules governing sabbaticals. For instance, the company guidelines could provide that an employee takes sabbatical leave within a specified period. At the lapse of such a period, the employee may lose sabbatical leave privileges. Another provision might be that if an employee decides to go on sabbatical leave, they may need to commit to staying on in the company for a defined period once they return from their sabbatical leave.

Usually, when an employee is on sabbatical, they remain an active part of the company's workforce. This implies that their company policies, including data protection and confidentiality, remain binding to them.

Sabbatical leave timing

Before taking a sabbatical, you should decide whether or not it's the right time. Generally, you should be well-established in your career such that you can pick right back up from where you left off. It would be best to take your sabbatical leave before having certain responsibilities concerning your home or dependents. Consider whether every aspect of these dependents will be taken care of, even when you're not working. If you are not quite sure whether or not it's the right time for you to take advantage of this company benefit, you must take the time to do your due diligence. Ask yourself if some obligations are tying you to your current life and work situations.

From time to time, employees take sabbatical leave for various reasons. Before you decide to take it, reflect on whether taking an extended amount of time away from work would set you back, as you should come up with mechanisms for recovery. Also, think about your desired career path security as you take this break.

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