How should I ask for a sabbatical?

So, you’ve made your decision to take a career break. Brilliant. Fantastic. You’re going to have the time of your life. But now there’s just the small matter of getting your boss to agree to it and – unless you plan to quit Jerry Maguire style – it’s something which needs a bit of planning. So how should you go about asking for a sabbatical? Every company will have different procedures to follow, but here are my six general steps to getting that “Yes”:

Does your company have a sabbatical policy?

Nowadays, especially in the UK, many companies have policies in place for their employees to take a sabbatical. If this is the case, make sure that you fulfil the necessary criteria. Often it will include having to work at a company for a particular amount of time.

If your company doesn’t have a policy in place then you are going to have to broach the subject yourself. Find out who the appropriate person to ask is, ie. HR/head of department/immediate boss, and ask to arrange a meeting. Make sure you give as much advance notice as possible – no one is going to agree to give you a career break starting the next week.

Make your case

Be clear about what you are asking for. Explain why you feel that you need/want to take a break from work; the time frame you are hoping for and how the sabbatical would benefit you. If there are any additional benefits you can think of for the company then don’t forget to include them. For example: Are there any transferable skills you will learn along the way? Will you return to work more refreshed and focused to take on new tasks and responsibilities?

How will the company function without you?

This is the issue that your boss is most likely to be concerned about, so it is important that you highlight any ways in which you think their life can be made easier. For example: Would you be able to do any preparation work before you leave? Can you pass on your knowledge to other colleagues or temps so that they can cover for you while you’re away?

If you ask to take your sabbatical at the busiest time of the year it’s unlikely that your boss is going to jump for joy. But if there is a quieter period in your workplace, when it would be more convenient to go, then that will make them more inclined to agree.

Choose the right time to pitch the idea

Choose your time to approach the subject carefully. Don’t ask to see your boss at 9am when they’ve got a busy day ahead of them or at the end of the day when they just want to get home. Arrange a meeting when they’ll have the time to listen to you and consider your request. Be prepared to wait for them to consider the proposal or talk to others about it.

Be willing to be flexible

Sometimes you might not always be offered exactly what you asked for so be prepared to be flexible. When I was taking a shorter break to Colombia I asked for a month off work but my boss offered three weeks. It was more than I was technically allowed to take in one go, so I accepted. If you’re asking for something which the company doesn’t usually offer, you might have to accept something slightly different to what you were hoping for. So don’t plan your entire trip before getting confirmation from your boss or you might be disappointed!

Have a Plan B

If your boss says no to your request what will your next step be? Are you willing to quit your job? Or will you work for a few more months/years (it’s good to set yourself a timeframe) to save money? It’s better to have a Plan B in your mind rather than putting all of your hope on a single decision.

So with those pointers in mind, go for it! It might be nerve-wracking but you won’t regret it. Last week I had the best Twitter conversation ever with someone who had just been given a six month sabbatical. She was so happy, I got excited just reading her tweets. And the sooner you do it, the sooner you can get planning your own grown up gap year!

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