What is a sabbatical?

Need a break? Why not take a sabbatical?

No matter how much you love your job, everyone can benefit from a change of scenery from time to time. And if a two week holiday just doesn’t cut it anymore – it might be time to look into an extended period away from work.

To help you understand what they’re all about (and how to bring them up with your employer), here’s everything you need to know about sabbaticals from work:


What is a sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended period away from work – organised and agreed upon by you and your employer.

It’s sometimes also referred to as an ‘adult gap year’, and is commonly used to explore new areas of your life (both professionally and personally).


How long is a sabbatical?

The length of a sabbatical will vary depending on your employer’s preference – but will generally last longer than your regular periods of annual leave.

They could last anywhere from two months to up to a year, and you’ll be able to return to your old job after your sabbatical is completed.


Will I get paid to go on sabbatical?

The majority of sabbaticals are unpaid, although there are exceptions.

For example, if the purpose of your break is to do work-related research, or if you’ve been at an organisation for a long period of time – you may be offered a paid sabbatical.

However, these will usually be shorter than unpaid breaks (e.g. a maximum of six months).


Why take a sabbatical?

Although a sabbatical isn’t for everyone, taking time out from work has its perks.

Here are a few reasons you could choose to pursue a sabbatical:

  • To get out of a rut. Taking a sabbatical can be a great way to put the spark back into your job. By taking time out, you’ll be able to return with a clear head and a new sense of purpose.
  • To make a difference. Sabbaticals are the perfect opportunity to do any charity or voluntary work you may not have previously had time for – without sacrificing your career.
  • To learn new skills. You could choose to do anything from taking a course to starting your own individual project. No matter what you choose to do, you’ll be working on your personal and career development.
  • To travel. One of the most popular reasons for taking a sabbatical is travel. Not only could you see the world, experience new cultures, or learn a new language – you might even be able to gain practical skills you can bring back to the workplace.

Careers in travel


How do I ask for a sabbatical?

To be given a sabbatical, you’ll usually need to have worked at your company for at least two years.

There may also be other policies in place which could affect your eligibility, such as seniority and current workload. However, these will vary from business to business.

To make sure you have all the information, it’s worth getting in touch with a member of your HR team or checking your company handbook (and contract) before you formally request one.

Here are a few things to do when you ask for a sabbatical:

  • Test the water. If your company hasn’t previously offered sabbaticals, it might be a good idea to see how they feel about the concept. You could also use any facts and benefits you’ve researched to sell the idea, and let them know it’s something you’re considering.
  • Set up a meeting. Once you’re ready to formally request a sabbatical, it’s vital to set up a one-to-one meeting with your manager to talk through your proposal. Just make sure you prepare what you’re going to say
  • Make a case. To make sure your boss can see the positives of you taking a sabbatical, it’s vital to think about how it would benefit them. Focus on the relevant skills and experience you’ll gain from your time out, and explain how you productivity could improve as a result (for example, if you plan to take a course).
  • Be flexible. OK, so you might be set on taking exactly a year out on a date you’ve selected. But unfortunately, this might not always work for your employer – so be prepared to make some alterations if necessary.
  • Don’t boast. Bragging to your colleagues about your year out could lead to them wanting to do the same thing as you – which might not be what your employer needs right now. Instead, only discuss your plans in a professional manner.


Could I be refused a sabbatical?

Although an employer might have policies in place for sabbaticals – they have no legal obligation to offer one, so there is a chance your request won’t be accepted.

This can be due to a number of reasons, including:

  • Your attendance and/or performance is poor
  • Your workload is too high, or it’s a busy time for the business
  • Your employer can’t find cover for your role
  • You’re receiving disciplinary action

If you’re set on taking one and your employer isn’t able to accept – it might be worth seeing if a compromise is available. This could mean ensuring you find someone to cover role, or taking your sabbatical at a different date.


Tips on taking a sabbatical

OK, so you’ve mentally committed to taking time off – but do you know how you’re going to spend it?

Before you jump into taking a sabbatical, it’s vital to do some essential planning in advance.

That way, you won’t have to spend half of your break working out what you want to do (or how you’re going to afford it).

  • Research what you’re passionate about (whether it’s travelling or volunteering)
  • Figure out what you want to do
  • Find the money
  • Set a (rough) date
  • Make a plan
  • Factor everything in (from accommodation to transport)


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