How to Take a Sabbatical at Work (With Examples)

By Chris Kolmar - Nov. 16, 2020
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Your vacation time is a valuable resource that allows you to relax and do the things you enjoy with the people you love.

Imagine getting to do that for multiple weeks or months in a row instead of one or two weeks throughout the year.

You could backpack across Europe, learn a new language, or finally pick up that woodworking hobby you’ve been slowly collecting equipment for over the last eight years.

Plus, you could return to work rejuvenated and ready to take on and even enjoy your responsibilities again.

All this could be possible with a sabbatical, so read on to find out how.

What Is a Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is simply an extended period of rest from your regular work. It’s a specific time – separate from your regular annual leave – designed to give you a break long enough to fully disconnect and allow yourself to accomplish something you truly want to do.

It might sound counterproductive that companies would allow and even encourage this, but it can be highly beneficial for both individuals and the organizations they work for.

Staying constantly busy and overwhelmed is a recipe for burnout, while intentionally taking a “sabbath” or “rest” is vital to remaining a healthy and productive human being.

Some sabbatical-takers go on exotic adventures, while others stay home and enjoy the peace and quiet. Still others might do volunteer work or immerse themselves in a foreign language. Some also might want to study a subject they love or spend time with a mentor learning tricks of the trade.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you have a reason for doing it, even if that’s just to give your mind the chance to fully relax for the first time in years.

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And, when you’re on a sabbatical, you shouldn’t be checking your work email or worrying about how the office is carrying on without you. This is your chance to disconnect completely. It’ll all be there when you return.

How Long Is a Sabbatical?

The length of a sabbatical depends on your industry and individual company.

For example, colleges and universities often offer their faculty an entire school year to devote themselves to their studies outside the classroom.

For workers in other industries, though, a sabbatical can be anywhere from a month to a year long. Some companies also have policies that use the length of time you’ve worked for the organization as a determiner for how much time you get, just like your regular vacation days.

Is Sabbatical Leave Paid or Unpaid?

The answer to this question depends on your company, but most of the time it’s paid, even if it’s only for a percentage of your regular pay.

Even if you don’t get paid, though, there is a lot of value in being able to take a break while knowing that your job will still be there for you when you get back.

How Does a Sabbatical Work?

If your employer has a specific procedure for taking a sabbatical, you should find out about it as soon as you can so that you can prepare accordingly.

Sometimes, companies require employees to take their sabbaticals during specific time frames or commit to staying at the company for a certain length of time after returning. This is a good thing to note if you plan to do some soul searching during your sabbatical that might result in a career change upon your return.

Generally, though, you’ll need to let your company know far in advance (months, if not longer) that you plan to take a sabbatical and when you’ll be gone. That way, you can know if you’ve gotten approval in time to make travel arrangements and so that your company can figure out who will cover for you when you’re gone.

This might be a temporary hire, or it might be a combination of people stepping in to pick up the slack. Either way, though, you’ll need to work to tie up loose ends as much as possible so that the handoff goes smoothly.

When you are on your sabbatical, remember that you’re still an employee at the organization. Their policies still apply to you, so don’t take this as an opportunity to go wild with no consequences.

What To Do If Your Company Doesn’t Have a Sabbatical Leave Policy

Some organizations, especially smaller ones, don’t have established sabbatical leave policies. If this is the case, you will need to make your case for why they should allow you to take this time off in addition to your regular vacation days.

To do this, you’ll need to make a proposal to present to your company leaders. You might also need to be okay with taking the sabbatical without pay.

When you’re creating your proposal, consider how your organization will benefit from your time off. Your employer isn’t just going to let you go on sabbatical without some reason to do so. Think through what you hope to accomplish and how it will benefit the organization. This could include:

  1. Learning a new skill that will help you better succeed in your role. If you plan to learn a foreign language or take classes at a university, this is an easy way to convince your employer that your time on sabbatical will benefit the organization.

    Just make sure you have specifics to share about what you’ll be learning and how you’ll apply your new skills when you return.

  2. Researching your current and potential markets. If you want to do some traveling during your time off, first-hand market research might be a good reason to do so. Just make sure you actually use the time for research and not to sit on the beach for two months.

  3. Giving yourself time to recharge and come back with fresh ideas and insights. This is an especially reasonable request after you complete a major project or after you’ve been working faithfully at the company for a while.

    Most healthy organizations want to reduce burnout and turnover, so they may be willing to let you take time off for this reason alone.

  4. Giving other employees the opportunity to step up. This reason is best combined with one or two others, but if you have some up-and-coming employees under you, point out that this would be a great opportunity to let them handle more responsibilities on a trial basis.

    You might find that they have some great ideas that will benefit the company.

Sabbatical Leave Policy

If you’re the one who could put a sabbatical leave policy in place in your organization, here are some considerations you’ll want to cover in your policy:

  1. What is the purpose of the sabbatical? The answer to this depends on your organization. If you’re struggling to keep employees from burning out, it might be worth letting them use their sabbatical however they please.

    On the other hand, you might want to only approve sabbaticals for specific purposes that further the organization’s mission and vision. If your company values charity work, you might specify that sabbatical leave can only be used for approved volunteer work.

    Or, you might want to require that employees need to use their break for professional growth. You’ll just need to specify which projects are acceptable.

  2. How long will the sabbatical be? Once you’ve figured out what purpose employees’ sabbaticals will serve, you’ll need to determine how long they can be gone.

    The most important factor to base this decision on is the goal for the time off, as you need to provide enough time for them to accomplish the goal.

    You may also want to base this on how long individuals have worked at the company and set the length accordingly. Just make sure you have a standard policy and aren’t determining it case by case.

  3. Who qualifies for sabbatical leave? Similar to determining the length of the sabbaticals, you might want to base this decision on the length of time employees have worked at the organization.

    Often companies begin allowing employees to take extended leave after working at the company for five years, but this may not be the best fit for your organization.

  4. When can employees take their sabbatical? Some companies allow their employees to take a sabbatical whenever they want. Others only allow them to take time off within a specific window of qualifying for the leave.

    This allows organizations to better estimate who will be gone when, but it can also mean that you have more than a few employees out at once if you hired them all at the same time.

  5. How do employees get approval for sabbatical leave? Once you’ve determined the parameters for your company’s sabbatical policy, you’ll need to make it very clear how employees can take advantage of it.

    Lay out how far in advance they have to seek approval, who they need to ask, what information they need to present in order to get approval, and how their pay and other benefits will be handled while they’re gone.

    Once you’ve created a system, you’ll need to communicate it to current and future employees. Make sure they can easily access the policy or at least know who to talk to about their next steps.

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Chris Kolmar


Chris Kolmar

Chris Kolmar is a co-founder of Zippia and the editor-in-chief of the Zippia career advice blog. He has hired over 50 people in his career, been hired five times, and wants to help you land your next job. His research has been featured on the New York Times, Thrillist, VOX, The Atlantic, and a host of local news. More recently, he's been quoted on USA Today, BusinessInsider, and CNBC.

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