How to request a sabbatical and actually get your boss to agree

Sometimes, we all need a break from the daily grind of our professions. A sabbatical can give you time to mentally unwind, unload, and recharge, as well as reflect on your career choices.

Sabbaticals can be a great way to ensure that you return to work refreshed and ready to work hard. With 67% of employees reporting some level of burnout at work, according to a Gallup study of 7,500 employees in the US, an extended break could be exactly what both you and your employer need to succeed.

But, you can’t just embark on such a journey without some preparation. First, you need to know how to request a sabbatical.

What is a sabbatical?

Simply put, a sabbatical is a leave period that begins and ends at a time agreed upon between you and your employer. The amount of time away from work can range from a few weeks to a few months or up to a year. It can be paid or unpaid, depending on your company’s policy, and usually only happens after you have been in your role for several years.

In every industry and each workplace, a sabbatical will look different. While some companies may have policies and procedures in place to describe the framework for requesting and taking a sabbatical, many do not. This means a conversation must take place in the form of a request for a sabbatical.

First, do your research

Before requesting a sabbatical, you’ll want to take a look at your company’s written guidelines for doing so. This could be in your company’s employee handbook, staff manual, or similar literature.

If none of these documents provide information on sabbaticals, making a confidential request through human resources for such policies should be your next step.

Additionally, you can inquire whether other employees have taken a sabbatical before through informal conversations with coworkers. Bring up the conversation naturally in casual conversation with something like, “I saw a friend is taking a travel break from work for a year. I had no idea that was something people actually did. Do you know if anyone here has ever done something like that?”

If you are able to speak with someone in your company who has taken a sabbatical, try to glean as much as you can about the circumstances to help prepare for your own request. This may help set a precedent for sabbaticals you can use as leverage if your company does not have a formal written policy on the subject.

Avoid broaching the subject of a sabbatical with your direct manager until you have all of your facts gathered and are ready to have a full conversation about the details of your request. Simply asking them for the company’s written policy on sabbaticals could open the door before you’re prepared to do so.

Make a plan

Understand what it is that you want to gain from your sabbatical. Do you want to learn a new skill that will benefit your career? Do you want to forge new relationships through volunteer work? Would you like to travel and increase your awareness of world affairs?

Answering your own questions about how a sabbatical could not only help you as a person but help you as an employee can help you to formulate a request that answers your employer’s questions before they ask.

Additionally, you will need to decide prior to your request how long of a sabbatical you plan to take. This may already be spelled out for you in your company’s written policy, but if not, ask yourself how long you truly need to accomplish the goals of your break. If you know of other employees who have successfully requested sabbaticals, you can also use their timeline as a guide.

It can also be helpful to come up with a plan for how your responsibilities will be covered in your absence. Knowing how your tasks will still be completed while you are away could make it easier for your request to be approved. Take time to flesh out several possibilities to present to
your manager.

How to make your request

Your company may have specific instructions spelled out for how to make a sabbatical request. If not, you’ll need to use your best judgment as to whether or not this request will be better received through an in-person conversation or in writing.

Although it may be tempting to spell everything out in an email or a letter, sending an email that outlines that you would like to meet and discuss the potential of taking a sabbatical may yield better results. Nuance is your friend when it comes to this type of request, so a person-to-person discussion could be necessary. Truly, this will depend on your relationship with your boss and the type of communication they prefer.

What should your request include?

Depending on your company’s policies, this may look different, but in general, a comprehensive request (whether in person or in writing) will include the following:

-Introduction: A simple statement about why you are requesting a sabbatical.

Example: “After 3 years with the company, I feel my daily work experience and productivity could be enhanced by taking a sabbatical.”

-Benefits: Explain what results a sabbatical will yield to you that will ripple through your company.

Example: “I plan to use this time to engage in activities which will help me develop a stronger mental fortitude in order to enhance my job performance upon my return.”

-Timeline: Clearly state when you would like to leave and return.

Example: “I would like to request that my sabbatical begin at the conclusion of the work day on April 5, with my return scheduled for 9 a.m. July 5.”

-Coverage: Explain who could cover your job duties while away and provide options for coverage if your company does not already have this process laid out.

Example: “In my absence, my responsibilities could be well-managed by delegating tasks to two or three of my direct reports. I am willing to do what it takes to develop a plan for coverage while I am away.”

-Conclusion: Thank your employer and acknowledge that you are willing and prepared to
answer any questions about your request.

Example: “I appreciate your consideration, and would be happy to address any concerns you might have about my sabbatical request.”

What to do if your sabbatical is denied

Unless your company has specific guidelines about when sabbaticals may be taken, there is a chance your request could be denied.

The explanation for denial may be simple. For example, you may have put in your request at the same time as another co-worker and your boss needs at least one of you to be around. Maybe there is a big project coming up or another key team member who will be out on family leave
that you’re unaware of.

Although it should be on your manager to communicate these issues, you may have to ask follow up questions as to how you can make your sabbatical work better for everyone. Would a shorter sabbatical be ideal? Perhaps taking it at another time might work better? Even if you’re told no at first, digging a bit deeper into the why behind the rejection could yield the results you were initially looking for.

If no explanation is given for your denial, send a clear and concise email inquiring why your request was denied and what arrangements could be made in order to help facilitate a sabbatical request that will be approved.