How to Take a Sabbatical Without Derailing Your Career

Burned out? A sabbatical could be the answer—as long as you go about it the right way.

How to Take a Sabbatical Without Derailing Your Career

Take a sabbatical to recharge.

Are you feeling burned out at your job and in dire need of a second wind? A two-week vacation might not cut it, but a career sabbatical could be the answer.

What’s the Definition of Sabbatical?

A sabbatical is an extended break from your job or career. You’re still employed by your company and are expected to return to your job at the end of your time away.

What Is a Sabbatical Used For?

This break from the daily grind can give you the opportunity to explore new directions in your life, personal or professional.

Some common reasons people take a sabbatical leave include:

  • explore other cultures
  • write a book
  • volunteer
  • perform research (often for a book or paper)
  • get some needed rest

Furthermore, the benefits are real. Science says so. One study compared asked 129 faculty members who took sabbatical leave and 129 who did not to score themselves on life satisfaction, stress, and other measures of well-being. The self-reported scores of those who took time off were higher than the group that did not. Shocker.

Sabbaticals are common in academia. Professors will take a semester off and travel to a different university (or even a different country) to teach or conduct research in their field.

Certain corporations also offer sabbatical to their employees. According to the 2018 Employee Benefits Report from The Society of Human Resource Management, an average of 15% of companies offer sabbatical leave (5% are paid and 10% are unpaid).

Some prestigious firms, including Intel and Deloitte, have offered months-long leaves at full or partial pay. Smaller companies may offer two weeks of extra paid time off every few years, which is really more of a bonus vacation than a sabbatical.

But when most professionals think sabbatical, they have an extended leave of three or six or 12 months in mind, not just a few weeks. Because these career breaks are still rarely granted by US corporations, it’s not easy to get a handle on how likely you are to be granted an extended leave from your employer, even if you’re willing to forgo pay. In fact, you may need to quit your job with no guarantee your employer will welcome you back.

Here’s how to plan and take a sabbatical while reducing the chances you’ll derail your career.

Learn About Your Company’s Sabbatical Leave Policy

It’s something of a long shot, but look through your employee manual for mention of sabbatical benefits or ask a trusted human resources representative. Although many companies don't have formal sabbatical policies in place, your employer might be open to the idea.

If you intend to return to your current employer after your sabbatical and your employer doesn’t officially offer an extended leave, be prepared to brainstorm. During your annual review, if you’re offered a raise or a bonus, ask if you can have two months off instead.

Ask to Take a Sabbatical the Smart Way

Before you mention your notion of an extended leave to even one colleague, carefully formulate your plan. These steps can help you avoid career mishaps:

1. Ask yourself why you’re taking the time off and what benefits you expect to gain. Sitting on a beach and downing tropical drinks served in a pineapple with a tiny umbrella sounds delightful and restorative, but how’s it going to contribute to your personal and professional growth?

2. Select a time frame for your trip. Ideally, it’s not during your company’s busy season or while a teammate is out on parental leave. Don’t put your professional reputation at risk by bailing when the company needs you most.

3. Double-check your bank account. Not all company sabbaticals are paid in full—or at all. Calculate all of your expenses while you’re away, and remember that bills don’t take time off. You don’t want to find yourself in career-crushing financial straits at any point.

4. Present your ideas to your boss. Talk about how the new-and-improved you will benefit the company. For example: Having time to do extensive research and publish that paper will position you as an expert in your field, which would in turn bring some welcome attention to the company. Some companies might even give you money for a creative travel sabbatical that could bring the company good press.

A carefully thought-out plan shows your boss that you have genuine goals in mind and you’re not just taking off without any direction.

Stay In Touch While You’re on Leave

Once you’re on sabbatical, whether it’s based in your hometown or on another continent, consider occasionally taking on a small freelance project to keep involved. Just keeping in touch with your co-workers or other professionals can boost your chances for a smooth and successful reentry.

The fact is, you’re likely to find electricity and an internet connection even in the most remote of villages. You don’t need to check in with your team daily, but maybe hop online every three or four weeks and send a dispatch with digital photos. Not only is it a way for you to show what you’ve been up to, it’ll help remind everyone that you’re still part of the team.

Keep Your Skills Honed for Reentry

Yes, you're taking time off to recharge, but you want to return to your job with a skill set that's just as sharp as when you left—even more so, in fact. It’s easy to neglect your professional development while your mind, and perhaps body, are elsewhere, but you do so at your own peril. Get in touch with your company before you're scheduled to return so that you can catch up and resume your duties seamlessly.

Need a Sabbatical—and a Job to Come Home To? Do This

We fully understand the need to walk away from your job to recharge your batteries. If your current employer doesn’t, however, you’ll need some help finding a job when you’re back from leave. Want some help with that? You can start now, for free, with Monster. Upload your resume so that it’s visible to the loads of recruiters that use Monster to find workers to fill open positions. You can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox so that there are jobs waiting for you when you’re ready to get back in the game.