13 Essential Tips for Taking a Sabbatical

Burnout or sabbatical decision

Have you got to a point in your life where your work-life balance is completely off and you need a break from everything? From the everyday hustle, the overcrowded and stuffy train on your daily commute, the pressure of trying to maintain a social life and a career, all while keeping your living space in order?

If you’re thinking, ‘Yes! That’s me!’, a sabbatical might just be the solution to all your problems – because, quite simply, a two-week holiday just isn’t going to cut it! A short career break, on the other hand, can be great for your personal and professional development, and ensures that you return to work with a fresh state of mind.

So, if you’re ready to take the plunge, we’ve put together this list of useful tips for taking a sabbatical so that you’re fully prepared.

1. Have a Good Reason

You might just want time off to go and lay on a beach in the Bahamas for six months, where you can drown your sorrows with an endless supply of margaritas, but that’s highly unlikely to get you a free pass off work for that amount of time.

In other words, you need a good reason for your time off. This could be ticking something off your bucket list, like volunteering in a developing country, teaching English to foreign students, backpacking across South America or doing a crash course in a new skill.  Whatever it is, be sure it makes good use of your time off.

2. Question Yourself

Running off to another country might seem like the best solution to treat your workplace burnout, but sadly, it won’t. Holly Bull, president of gap-year consultancy Center for Interim Programs says that ‘it's really important people ask the question about whether their work is fulfilling. If it's not, it may be scary to make a change, but it's invariably better to risk it to find something that really does light them up.’

If you discover that you’re unhappy with your job, you could always give yourself some time off before you start a new position, rather than create a gap on your CV that may turn recruiters off you further down the line.

3. Check Your Company Policy

Before you even start to plan your sabbatical, you should check with your HR department and read over your contract to see what the policy is regarding extended breaks. Many organisations allow workers who have been there over five years a longer amount of unpaid leave, but this isn’t always the case.

It’s always best to study the terms and conditions before you even approach your manager to ask for their approval. This will effectively show that you’re taking it seriously and that you fully understand the procedures.

Do remember to ask about what benefits (if any) you can still claim while you’re out on sabbatical, such as health insurance and pension schemes.

4. Get Advice from Your Peers

There are many things to consider before you take time off from your regular 9-to-5 job, from career progression to financial concerns. And if you find yourself stuck in a pickle, it might be a good idea to ask for advice from your peers who have been in a similar position. After all, they’ll be able to tell you how they prepared for their sabbatical and how wise of a choice it really was.

If there isn’t anyone in your workplace that you can talk to, meanwhile, consider reaching out to a career coach or your HR adviser.

5. Set a Date

Although you want to put an immediate end to your misery, it’s probably not a good idea to start your leave ASAP. Set a date and try not to defer from it. For example, if you want to travel to complete a special hike or visit the Olympics, you’ll know well in advance and will be able to give both your employer and yourself enough time to plan.

6. Get Your Finances in Order

Taking time off will put a huge dent in your finances, so make sure everything’s in order before you take the plunge. If you have debt, for example, make sure it’s been paid off first.

You could also think about raising money, cutting your expenses or digging into your savings to make sure you can survive on your allocated budget while you’re on leave. Moreover, many people work part time or take on freelance jobs while on sabbatical to ensure a steady source of income during that period – in fact, it sometimes even leads to a full-time project or business venture.

7. Develop Your Pitch

Most bosses won’t be too happy about losing a valued team member for a large amount of time, so you’ll need to make sure you have a clear pitch to propose to your manager.

You could mention, for example, how taking a sabbatical will positively affect your career. You could also pose the idea of hiring a trainee to cover your duties while you’re away, which will effectively save the company money – you can even suggest to train them before you leave.

8. Give Plenty of Notice

Most contracts will state how much notice you need to give in order to take a sabbatical. In most cases, it’s a year’s notice, but not always.

If you know well in advance that you want time off, be sure to speak to your employer as soon as possible. Although the idea of having this conversation may be nerve-wracking, it’s best to get it out of the way – and the sooner, the better.

9. Create a Road Map

Do you know what you’re going to be doing on your career break or have an idea of where you want to be? If not, it’s a good idea to create a plan so your goals are more visible. If you’re going to be travelling, for example, begin by booking flight and accommodation arrangements. Why not even look for a job while you’re away?

Many people who ignore this important step end up falling into a dangerous zone as they lose purpose of their plan – especially in the first few months. It’s also important to schedule appointments and gatherings with your friends to make sure you have stuff to look forward to.

10. Plan Your Exit Strategy

To avoid task-delegating and falling into a calendar-clearing frenzy in your last few hours, begin planning for your leave well in advance. You should also create a guide with instructions for your replacement (if there is one) or a detailed brief on your ongoing projects for your colleagues so they’re up to speed with everything and understand what needs to be done while you’re away.

11. Keep in Touch

While on your sabbatical, it’s important to keep in touch.

Alice Weightman, CEO and founder of The Work Crowd and Hanson Search, advises to ‘offer to help out with anything if they need you to, even if you can’t get back to them straight away. Make sure you stay visible and that they have you in their mind’s eye. Arrange a hand-back-to meeting before you go, too.’

You could even send in photos of your experiences while you’re travelling or share a short message of what you’ve been learning during this time.

12. Document Your Journey

Documenting your journey will not only be a way of keeping in touch with your friends and family, but it will also allow you to put in context what you’ve achieved over your time off from work. You could consider writing a personal diary, starting a blog or posting short snippets on your social media pages. You never know – you could even monetise your sabbatical!

13. Keep Your Skills Updated

According to a 2007 joint study by Aquent and Dartmouth University’s Tuck School of Business, about 61% of hiring managers surveyed said that the most important thing they look at when hiring candidates is how they kept their skills updated during a career break. In other words, make sure you use every opportunity presented to you to improve your skills and expand your knowledge.

After reading these tips, you should hopefully be better equipped at making the most of your time off and advancing your career on your return.

Are you considering taking a sabbatical? If so, join in on the conversation below and let us know what you plan on doing with your time off work…