15 February 2017

There's never been a better time to take a career break. If you want to travel the world, do some volunteering and maybe even learn something new, now is a great time to pack up and see the world!

More and more people on a career break are now choosing to take a sabbatical, rather than leave their job. A sabbatical is an agreed period away from work. It's usually unpaid (a few companies offer paid sabbaticals if you've been there long enough) but you're still an employee of the company.

Whether or not your company has a sabbatical policy, there is a right and a wrong way to go about applying. Here are the top 5 mistakes people make when asking for a sabbatical – and how you can avoid them.

Mistake 1 – Not considering your employer's needs

When you start thinking about your career break, you are probably thinking all about you.

Where will you go?

What will you do?

How much money will you need?

And so on.

That's fine, it's really important to think about your career break very carefully, so you can ensure you're doing something that is worthwhile, will help your personal and professional development, and that you can plan it appropriately.

But when it comes to asking for a sabbatical, it's vital that you consider your employer's needs too.

For example, you might want to go away for 6 months, but they can only really spare you for 4. You might not have considered brushing up on your Spanish, but it would be a real asset to your company if you did. And being flexible about when you go away shows you've considered the needs of your employer - and those of your colleagues.

You don't have to do what they want you to do, of course - it is your career break after all! But going in with an awareness of where the company is coming from, and how you can best fit your career break into their schedule, will encourage your employer to say yes.

Mistake 2 – Not putting the business case to your employer

An employer without a history of giving their employees sabbaticals may be reluctant to start.

They may have genuine concerns about the cost of covering your job, that everyone will now want a sabbatical - or even that you won't come back!

It's your job to assuage these concerns - by putting the business case for your sabbatical to your employer.

If they let you take a sabbatical, you will return with more skills which will be an asset to your company. Soft skills, like leadership, problem-solving and communication, are in great demand these days, and your sabbatical will let you develop these outside the office. You may also develop skills and experience that are specifically useful for your job too - whether that's learning how to teach, or understanding Japanese culture.
 And best of all - your employer doesn't have to pay for this training!

Another advantage of letting you return after your career break is that they get back an employee who doesn't need training, won't take time learning the ropes, and has already established relationships with clients, suppliers and colleagues. You being able to jump straight back in to your job (as far as practical) will save them time and money.

Finally, while you're on sabbatical, your employer doesn't have to pay you, so if your colleagues are able to provide cover temporarily, they will save on a salary. They also don't have to pay your benefits, or give you a pay rise (if you're away at appraisal time), so again, they're saving!

Mistake 3 – Not getting it in writing

This is a big one.

It's essential you get your sabbatical agreement in writing, so both you and your employer know what you've agreed to.

Standard inclusions are:

  • The employer must keep your job open for you (it may not be the exact same job but it must be at the same level)

  • You don't get a salary, pay rise or benefits while you are on sabbatical, but these must all be reinstated when you return

  • You can't do any paid work while on sabbatical (you can accept expenses for volunteering though)

  • You must leave and return on specific dates - there may be some flexibility in this, depending on you and your employer

  • You are legally employed by your company while you're on sabbatical, with all the usual rights and responsibilities that normally entails (apart from salary etc)

If there is any difficulty about your return, you are in a much stronger position if you have a written agreement. This is in addition to your employment contract and employment law - both of which can protect you as well.

Mistake 4 – Not thinking through all the possibilities

When you're planning your career break, you're full of optimism and enthusiasm for all the things you plan to do - diving over the Great Barrier Reef, volunteering with orphans in Africa, climbing mountains, etc.

Sometimes, this enthusiasm can blind you to what can go wrong.

No-one wants to think about this of course - it can put a dampener on your plans. But it's essential if you want to protect yourself and your job - and it can mean you have a better sabbatical because you know you've covered all possibilities, so you don't worry while you're away.

One common occurrence with career breakers is that they don't stick to their agreed schedule. If they come back later than planned, they could lose their job. If they come back earlier, they may be stuck without a source of income (if their employer won't take them back yet and they're forbidden from doing paid work elsewhere).

Depending on your job, you might also have to consider various regulations, certifications, memberships or qualifications that need to be renewed or maintained. For example, if you work in a job that requires a CRB check and this is delayed for some reason, you could find yourself out of a job for longer than expected.

It's no fun thinking about what might not go according to plan - but it's less fun coming back to an unpleasant surprise.

Mistake 5 – Not asking at all!

Sometimes people really want a career break but don't even think to ask for a sabbatical.

Or they want a sabbatical but are too afraid to ask, because they think their employer will say no. And then they'll be known at work as the one who wants to leave!

If you're not sure how your boss feels about you taking a sabbatical (regardless of whether or not the company has an official policy), you could try a softly softly approach. Perhaps mention a friend or someone you know professionally who's done it, and see how the boss reacts.  Or ask if anyone at the company has taken a sabbatical and how it's worked out.

Many career breakers have handed in their notice at work and found out afterwards that they could have taken a sabbatical. Not only does it give you job security and financial security - some people do actually enjoy their job and want to return! So it's always worth asking if you think you've got a shot.

So will you take a sabbatical?

If you really want to take a career break, you can make it happen. Hopefully you will be able to take a sabbatical and avoid these 5 mistakes, but even if you can't, you've still got the option of taking a mini career break (meaningful travel in 2 weeks) or even quitting your job! Whatever you decide, don't wait!


Find a career break that suits you here.