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How To Talk About Your Sabbatical To Your Manager

We’ve all experienced that feeling of apprehension and dread leading up to a conversation with our manager. Whether it’s asking for a pay rise, asking for feedback, or even giving your notice, it’s only natural to experience anxiety or worry in anticipation of the confrontation. If you’re considering a career break to travel, it’s likely you’re already worrying about the moment you’ll need to bring it up at work.

How long is a sabbatical anyway?

If you plan to continue working with the same company before and after your sabbatical, you might first be wondering what is the appropriate amount of time to ask for. 

There is no fixed time for taking sabbatical leave — that is something that is agreed on between you and your company. Sabbaticals, specifically for travel, tend to be between six months and two years. Your first task is to see if your company has a sabbatical policy – if they don’t, fear not! This could be an opening to frame the discussion on your terms. 

In some cases, sabbaticals are a common occurrence in a company; some companies even encourage them. If this is the case for you, start with the allowed timeframe (or the amount others have generally taken in the past). Then, decide if you want to ask for more or less time. Knowing how your request compares to ones before you can help determine your talking points.

In all cases, if you don’t ask, you won’t receive. 

It really is true. So be open to (and excited about) having these conversations with your employer. 

Learn more about the benefits of going on sabbatical – what’s in it for them?

Do your research now so you can build a strong case when it comes time to discuss it with your manager! I mean, you might already be convinced it’s what you need to do, but you might not know about all the benefits that a sabbatical can have for both you and your employer. 


There is a growing body of research that shows taking time out of work to travel or pursue other personal development opportunities not only benefits individuals but also the businesses they work for. Extended time away from work gives you space to reflect deeply on your career path and establish a clearer perspective on your long-term (and short-term!) goals. At the same time, it opens up an opportunity to learn new skills and further develop existing ones. Taking a break to travel can help you cultivate confidence, emotional and physical resilience, self-connection, and improve your overall health and wellbeing… All important when it comes to your career too. 

Where you can, be specific about what you plan to do during your time away. Do you plan to take a course? Self-study to learn a new skill? Work on a personal project? What about your plans can be beneficial for the work you’ll return to?

Okay, and then let’s be honest. Supporting your request to take a sabbatical may be the best thing your manager can do to retain you as part of their team. Sure, you’re going to be able to talk about all the experiences you’ll be able to bring back to the team, but that right there can be one of your points. You plan to come back to the team. What better benefit is there than that?

And then help your manager to craft the talk track they will have with others on your team. What can you and/or they say to get your teammates on board?

Sidenote: Taylor’s team at work was amazingly supportive of her news that she was joining the Peace Corps. One of her teammates even bought her a few headbands because she mentioned she was going to have to figure out what to do with flyaway frizz when she couldn’t shower every day.

You could even use your time to learn a new skill! 

This could benefit both you and your employer.


Before taking a sabbatical, you can have a conversation about potential areas for career development with your manager, and come up with a plan for how you will use your time away effectively. 


It’s often assumed that the reason people take sabbaticals is to escape a job they dislike or a bad situation, or for people who aren’t sure of their career paths. While this may be true in some cases, many people who feel perfectly happy in their jobs take time out to travel too, so they can enjoy another aspect of who they are. If you have a clear idea of what you want to get out of a sabbatical — say, for example, to learn a new language, or finish that book idea you’ve been toying with, or dedicate time to being present with your family — your manager may be more likely open to the idea. 


And you can even offer to share with your manager and team how your sabbatical helps you feel more inspired at work when you get back. Who doesn’t appreciate a little shot of enthusiasm, even if it’s living through someone else’s adventures? While your sabbatical is your personal time, others get to benefit from it too!

Learn more about how a sabbatical can help grow your career here.

Making it happen: How to ask for a sabbatical

Before opening up the sabbatical discussion, it’s important to do your research. Know what you’d like to say and why you want to take this break. At the heart of the conversation, there should be honesty and a willingness to compromise. 

1. Check your company’s leave policy 

Your employer may already have steps in place to support your sabbatical goals. See if you can find this information before discussing it with your manager. It will help you to feel prepared and to know what to bring up in conversation. 


See if there is a specialist you can discuss a sabbatical leave with confidentially first, such as an HR officer. Try to keep your ideas quiet until a plan is set. This will limit the chances of your manager hearing about your sabbatical before you tell them yourself.

2. Find out if there is a precedent

Whether or not your workplace has a sabbatical or career break policy, it’s useful to know whether any past or current employees have taken a long break.

You can find this out, usually, through casual conversations with other employees and team members. But try not to raise too much suspicion. Rumors have a habit of flying fast in office environments. Keep the conversation light and only mention it around trusted colleagues. 

If you find out that somebody has taken a sabbatical before, and they’re still working in the company, invite them out to coffee or lunch to ask them about it. 

How did they make the agreement with the company? How did the conversation go?

What did they do on their sabbatical?

How did it work out for them? What did work look like before they left and after they got back? 

Do they have any lessons learned that they think you should know before you bring it up with your manager?

Make note of any demonstrable benefits to the organization from your colleague’s experience – it could be a strong backup to your own case.

3. Prepare your case to share with your manager

Once you’re familiar with the company policy and any precedent for sabbatical leave, there’s still a little bit of work to do before you open the conversation up fully.


The most important element you need to be clear on is how beneficial your sabbatical could be to your team and the overall company. What value does it bring? Do some research into how sabbaticals aid both employees and employers in the long term, especially if you can make it specific to your company or industry.


Take your time preparing your case, don’t rush the process. Get very clear on what you want to do, and why. Take the emotion out of it and be very logical and structured in your presentation. Note any constructive feedback you’ve been given at work, and think about how a sabbatical might help you improve on that while you’re away! 


Examples could be teambuilding skills, networking skills, project management skills, or language skills. Being in a new environment, coordinating travel logistics, and problem-solving can improve your ability to connect with people and you can take this skill back into the office with you. 


Plus, did you know taking a sabbatical could also boost your motivation at work, both before and after your trip? Feel free to use these ideas to help convince your manager!


Give it some good thought. How will you share your value with your employer? It goes without saying that you are more likely to be awarded a sabbatical if you contribute highly to the company before you leave. Can you point out clear factors as to how you are an important part of the team? 


Leading up to the conversation, you already need to be in good standing. Do good work. Be reliable and timely. Contribute to your team and bring fresh new ideas. Believe that your work is a reflection of you. That way your manager will know what you bring to the table. 


And remember that point above about how supporting your sabbatical plans can be one of the best things your manager can do to retain you as part of the team? Keep that point in mind too.


When you go into that initial conversation, your manager should already be clear on the value you’re bringing. Any case you make verbally should simply be a reinforcement of this. You shouldn’t have to convince them of your value at this stage. Consider the timing of your sabbatical, is there a quieter period of the year that you can consider traveling in? Your manager will appreciate that you’ve taken the time to consider the needs of the team as well as your own.

4. Schedule the conversation

When it comes to major requests at work, like sabbatical leave, it can be tempting to avoid face-to-face contact and write it in an email or text. While this is an option, you’re more likely to get the outcome you desire if you muster the courage to speak to your manager directly. That way it’s more of a conversation than a request.


If you’ve taken the above steps, you should be fully prepared and ready to share your ideas for your sabbatical. It’s best to go in organized before you have the discussion – be mindful of their time! Schedule a meeting instead of going with an unplanned knock on the office door. 


Take time to think about what your manager’s biggest concerns might be. Can you go prepared with answers to their potential questions or worries?


Take some notes with you so that you don’t forget any vital points, but don’t recite them word for word. You want the conversation to flow naturally and not appear rehearsed or forced. This in itself is a great confidence booster! 


Once you’ve shared your case, actively listen and observe. We can never predict the outcome when it comes to conversations like this, so be open to it all. This won’t be the last time you discuss your sabbatical; there will most likely be follow-up meetings in the lead up too.


Most importantly, take your time with each step. Sometimes the urge to rush straight to the conversation once you’ve decided you want to take a sabbatical can be strong! Slow the process down.

If you’re ready to make your sabbatical a dream come true, and need help with smart financial planning to make it happen, we’re here to help. Come chat with us and share your dreams! Schedule a discovery call now. 

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