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10 Tips on Successfully Asking for a Sabbatical

by Meg · 5 comments

Asking for a Sabbatical

When it comes to getting my way, I have found my notorious puppy-pout to be my most valuable weapon.   If there were ever a sport for this trait, I would be the Muhammad Ali of pouting.   This (along with my irresistible wit, charm and humility) is just one of the many reasons why Tony can never say “No” to me.

Unfortunately, if I were to ever use this strategy when asking for a sabbatical at work, it would be a major C.L.M. (A.K.A. Career Limiting Move).   In this case, I put away my big guns and, instead, mapped out a strategy to make this process go as smoothly as possible.

Puppy pout aside, my request to take a leave of absence to vagabond around the globe with my husband has been approved!  And while I am no expert, here are the 10 steps I took to get my employer to give the thumbs up on this grand adventure:


1.  Build your case
Do your research.   Look into your Employee Handbook to see if you have a sabbatical program in your firm and, if so, what are the qualifications to be eligible for one.

In addition, map out the details.  Have a solid timeframe in mind for when you want the sabbatical to start and for how long it will be.  This can drastically help reduce unfavorable negotiations with your manager later on.

For example, if you tell your manager you want to take a sabbatical but do not know for how long, he or she may just say you are only allowed to take two months off.  However, if you go into your discussions saying that you want to take a year off, he or she will be more likely to grant you this extended time (or at least a lot more than if you just let them choose).

Learning and planning as much as you can upfront will help you construct your cause and set you up for success.

2.  Plan way in advance!
Asking for a sabbatical is not the same as quitting your job, so a two-week notice will just not cut it.

My corporate policy was to get approval three-months prior to starting my leave but I began the process twelve months in advance.  I know this may seem a little dramatic (yet not out of character for my “Type A” mentality), but I cannot begin to tell you how much my employer appreciated that I was being proactive.  This has allowed me and my company to work together and plot out all the logistics of my leave in regards to time-sensitive job assignments over the next year, how to leverage vacation days prior to the trip, how to collect bonuses when I leave, profit sharing, etc.

If you decide to notify work way in advance, be sure to emphasize to your boss and HR that you want to be proactive in order to create a win/win situation for both parties – they will love this!

3.  Know whom to consult first.
Every organization operates in a different hierarchical manner.  Knowing whom to consult on sabbaticals can help set you up for success.

For example, I work for a small firm where rumors spread like wildfire and secrets are nonexistent.  Knowing this about my company, I thought it would be wise to reach out to my boss about my intentions prior to HR. It would have been a reckless move on my part if he found out that I did not consult him first on the topic.

4.  Schedule a meeting
This is no water cooler request!  Get some time booked on the calendar to sit down and discuss the sabbatical with your employer.

5.  Prepare your supervisor
When you schedule time to meet with your boss to discuss taking a sabbatical, make sure you inform him on the topic of your meeting.  The discussion will more than likely be counterproductive if the sabbatical topic gets brought up for the first time five minutes into the meeting.

6.  Start the meeting off on a high-note…and do a little ass kissing!
Make it about them.  Do not just start rambling on about your wants and needs.  Start the conversation off by saying that you truly enjoy being an employee for such an esteemed company and you value your career within the organization.  If the company knows how happy you are in your job, they will more than likely try and keep you happy.

7.  Get the “whys” out on the table.
Now that you have made your manager feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside, start breaking down your rationale for wanting to take a sabbatical:  Why is it important to you?  What do you hope to get out of it?  Why is now a better time than ever to take your journey?

If your boss is a cool person, he or she will enjoy learning more about you on a personal level and will better understand why this means so much to you – and will hopefully want to help out!

8. Understand that the company will want to know the WIIFM’s
A.K.A.  “What’s in it for me?”  And by me, I do not mean you.  As much as your company may want to keep you happy and approve your sabbatical request, they will want to know how this arrangement will benefit them.

You need to tie your request back into your career growth and discuss how your time off will benefit you on both a personal and professional level.

When I asked for my sabbatical, I told my manager that I thought that traveling would expand my horizons and provide me with a more worldly view on international business operations to leverage in my job upon my return.  I also said that it would give me an opportunity to learn new languages, recharge my engines, etc.

They also do not have to pay you for your time off, thus saving money.  What CFO doesn’t like that arrangement (especially during tough economic times)?

If you need more reasons, read up on how sabbaticals benefit companies and individuals.

9.  Act flexible and solicit your employers feedback
Even if you are dead set on your plans for taking the sabbatical (and the reasoning’s behind them) your manager will appreciate if you ask for his or her feedback.  This shows that you value their opinion.  Some questions to ask are as follows:

  • Does this proposed sabbatical start-date work for you?
  • Do you also think that this sabbatical could be a building block for my career?
  • Is there anything that you would additionally like me to get out of this trip?
  • Do you have any concerns?
  • What are some next steps that I need to take to prepare for this leave?

10.  Exude confidence throughout the entire process!
Stick to your convictions and continually drive this home to your employer.

In case you want to stick with the real business pros (instead of the pouting pro) on this subject, here are some more tips on how to get your sabbatical leave request granted.  In addition, Squidoo.com offers up some great resources on all things sabbatical-related.

About Meg
Exhausted from traveling every week as a Business Management Consultant early in my career, I took a year off in 2012 to travel at my own pace. I am a high-energy girl that loves being active, eating food, drinking wine, and exploring the world with my partner-in-crime (and husband), Tony! I now reside in Portland, Oregon and continue to write about travel, food, wine, and the awesome adventures we have in the Pacific NW!

Christy May 3, 2012 at 2:59 am

Great advice. Just thought I’d share that I used it today with my boss….I don’t know the answer just yet but the conversation went well. Thanks so much for sharing.

If you click through to my site I wrote a post about it.

Meg May 3, 2012 at 4:40 am

You’re welcome Christy! I hope you found my article helpful… It took me awhile to get the courage to have that initial discussion with my boss but he turned out to be really open to it. Please keep me posted on what your boss comes back with… Just think that the hardest part is over! Congrats!

lydia August 19, 2014 at 11:33 pm

This is so useful! Thanks for the tips!
I’ve been thinking of ways to ask the boss for a sabbatical next year but don’t know how to begin and being really indecisive on when to actually schedule a meeting with him (thinking I still have 7 months to go after all). After reading this, you’ve just given me the confidence to just do it! :)

Nikky Bella February 17, 2017 at 2:56 am

Amazing post!!! I would love to take a sabbatical from work and clear my head to recharge and think about my purpose in life. I definitely will be pouring over your .pdf and doing some re-evaluating :)

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