Guide to taking a Sabbatical
If you are reading this, you may be considering taking a sabbatical from work and are looking for a bit more information...if so, then you are in the right place!
If you decide after some research that you think you would prefer to take a career break, rather than a sabbatical, then I have various articles focused on taking a career break... here is a good starting point. But for the moment, let's focus on sabbaticals and the meaning of a sabbatical.
What is a sabbatical?
Sabbatical meaning? A sabbatical is a set period of time off from your job (paid or unpaid), where you are still employed during your time off and will return to the same employer, to the same or a similar job. The duration of a sabbatical is agreed between you and your employer, but they usually last somewhere between 3 months to 12 months.
Some sabbaticals can last for more than a year but your employer may make you take a career break, where you are technically not employed for your time off but promise they will offer you a similar job when you return. If you do this you will lose your period of continuous employment, job perks and the guarantee of having a job to return to.
What is the law on sabbaticals?
Simple... there isn't any UK law surrounding sabbaticals. The company can use their discretion and have no obligation to accept your request for a sabbatical. An employee has no statutory right to take a sabbatical and any agreements will have to be made between the company and the employee.
I have written a full guide on requesting a sabbatical and practical tips if your employer agrees to your time off, which you can read here.
Will I be paid during my sabbatical?
Good question, but this depends on your employer and the terms you have agreed. If you work at a larger company, then they may have the resources to help you out financially during your time off, but the majority of sabbaticals are unpaid. You may lose certain benefits such as bonuses, company car and pension contribution and these points need to be included within your sabbatical agreement.
What should be my first step?
The first step is to check your company's policies to see if there is a sabbatical scheme/policy. Now, don't get too excited, it is the larger corporate companies that usually offer these, as larger companies may be more aware that employees want flexible working conditions and will have the resources in place to assist with this. If they do have one, there will usually be certain criteria that you will have to meet.
Most of the sabbatical policies I have seen will state that you had to be working with them for a set period of time (usually 2 years) and they will have a set a maximum duration that you can go for (usually 1-2 years max). Many will state that you can't work for competitors or even undertake paid work at all during your sabbatical, so this is something to take into consideration.
However, as great as all of this sounds, it depends if they will agree to terms that not only works for your employer but work for you as well. If a company has a policy of this nature, it means they are open to talking about it, which is a great starting point.
What if my employer doesn't have a sabbatical scheme or policy?
So you have read the policy documents and there is not a sabbatical scheme, don't sweat, you just have to approach the situation in a different way.
Depending on the type and size of the company that you work for, this may vary the reaction you get. At a larger, corporate company, they will have surplus staff that will be able to cover for you, while at a smaller company they may not have as much free cash flow to bring in a temp or locum. But, (there is always a but), smaller companies may be open to new ideas and may want to retain loyal staff that they have trained up, as this could be cost-effective in the long run.
You never know how your employers are going to react to your request, so you just need to build up your nerve to ask the question. What is the worst that can happen??? I will tell you... they say "no" and then you either stick with your career, or you hand your notice in and leave anyway and take a career break.
How do I approach my employers about a sabbatical?
Prepare your case: Before you approach your employers, you need to prepare yourself and have a mini-presentation in your head, as to why the sabbatical will benefit you and the company. Make sure you have thought everything through before the meeting and you have rehearsed what you want to say. If your departure will create problems for the company, then come up with a solution of how this can be dealt with. You need to make it as effortless for the company as possible.
Be realistic: You need to think about your terms and set these out in the meeting, i.e. when you want to go and for how long. Ensure that your proposed leaving date will give the company enough time to prepare for your departure and don't ask for a sabbatical lasting three years, as the likelihood is that they will say no. Most will give up to a year, or maybe two if you are at a larger company, but a small independent company may only grant 6 months, you need to be realistic based on your circumstances.
Get it in writing: You can't believe it, your employer agreed to let you have the time off and will keep your job open, now get it in writing. This isn't just the lawyer coming out in me, getting any agreement of this nature in writing is vital. You want to ensure that it states your full name, the leave date, how long your career break is to last, are they going to offer any remuneration while you are away. It will also need to state if the break will impact your pension, holiday entitlement or any other benefits (for example company car). Finally, you want to ensure it states the type of job and salary for when you return. Without this, they could offer you a job cleaning the toilets for minimum wage on your return.
Leave on good terms: Either if your employers agree to the sabbatical, or if you decide to quit, try to leave on good terms. It is not a good idea to burn your bridges with employers, whatever the circumstances, so try and understand that they will have their reasons if they don't accept your request. You don't know if you are going to need to call on them when you get back. Even though I quit my job, I left on good terms and sent update emails and postcards every now and again, just to keep in touch.
Taking time out from work to travel the world was the best decision I ever made! It is nerve-wracking discussing issues like these with your employers but you will not regret it when you sat on a beach on a small island with a beer in your hand or exploring Hanoi! Good luck!
Further reading and inspiration:
Inspiring reads if you are considering taking a sabbatical:
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Note: This content is provided as general background information and should not be taken as legal advice for your individual circumstances.