What is a Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is a break from work, often paid and usually lasting between a couple of months and a year

Even if a sabbatical has never occurred to you, the reasons below might show you the way a career break can benefit you:

  1. Shake things up. Frequently people want to break free from a rut they feel they are in. Rather than just taking time off, sabbaticals can rejuvenate a career and allow for more purpose on your return.
  2. Make a difference. Many sabbaticals revolve around charity work or voluntary projects which will have a lasting impact in disadvantaged parts of the world. If your job doesn’t afford such opportunities, then a sabbatical may do.
  3. Gain experience. This is a key reason for ambitious people who cannot gain the skills they need in their job. A sabbatical can allow you time to retrain, perhaps whilst taking part in a project outside of your usual experience.
  4. Discover other cultures. Sabbaticals often involve travel which can lead to cultural experiences in their own right. It can also mean working in new and different ways in the UK which will help you in your job down the line.
  5. Get educated. A popular reason for a sabbatical is to study. Many people take the opportunity to continue their learning or to fill in gaps in their education.
  6. Improve your health. For people with certain long-term conditions, a sabbatical can allow for a good deal of rejuvenation. Rest and relaxation are often needed to recover from certain medical treatments and a career break may fit the bill.
  7. It is better than quitting. People who want time away from their job sometime feel that sabbatical ‘allows’ them to. Of course whether or not they have a job to return to usually depends on their employer.

How to take a Sabbatical from your current job?

Once you have made up your mind what you want a sabbatical for, it is time to think about how to arrange one.

Unlike a gap year - which usually comes between college or university and a working career - a sabbatical is subject to your contract of employment.

The first thing to do is to check whether your contract allows you to take a sabbatical.

You may need to check on company policy as well, especially if you have been in your job for years.

Updates to time out of work policies can be made and you may not have the rights you think you do.

For many employees there is no automatic right to a time off work other than their holiday entitlement.

In such cases it may still be possible to negotiate a sabbatical depending on the attitude of your employer.

The key is to ask for one in a way that leaves your options open. Good tips are to:

  • Enquire about a sabbatical as something you are considering only. Don’t present a finalised plan which leaves your employer little room for negotiation.
  • Be flexible on times. Sabbaticals need not be year-long commitments and could be shorter. You may have to delay your plans to get what you want.
  • Don’t brag to colleagues. Your employer won’t thank you for putting the idea of a sabbatical into your workmates’ minds and this will lead to less flexibility.
  • Seek a compromise. By taking a sabbatical, you may have no job to return to. Your employer may only be able to indicate that they intend to re-employ you, but are unable to make this a contractual commitment for commercial reasons.
  • Accentuate the positives. Make a great deal of the skills and experience you will acquire during your time away and make sure your boss knows that you will be returning as an improved employee.

If you are unable to negotiate allowed time off from your current job, then you may just have to go it alone and hand in your resignation.

Try to leave the door open for a return and remain loyal to your employer when you do so.

It can be advisable to contact your old employer half way through your sabbatical to keep in touch on friendly terms and to indicate your intention to return.