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Want a sabbatical from the daily grind? It’s all in your pitch

With some planning and preparation, a leave of absence from your job can be seen as a benefit instead of a burden. Here’s how to get your boss on board.

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Young man with carry-on bag standing at window of an airport and watching plane before departureIf you’re suffering from burnout or have been bitten by the travel bug, you may want to consider taking a sabbatical. (Olena Yakobchuk/Shutterstock)

It could be burnout, a travel bug or time to upgrade your skills. Whatever your reason, there’s a way to leave the nine to five behind (at least temporarily) and take a sabbatical.

It’s getting the approval to do so that might be tricky.

Though sabbatical programs can be typical in educational environments, such as school boards, universities and colleges, they are far less common in a corporate setting. However, according to job and recruiting site Glassdoor.com, they are on the rise (see Build a company culture that retains and engages).

“Sabbaticals offer an opportunity for employees to return to work renewed, inspired and motivated,” says Sarah Stoddard, community expert at Glassdoor. “Employers are using [them] as a tool to get people in the door and encourage them to stay with that company longer.”

If a sabbatical is on your radar, take heed of these tips before knocking on your boss’s door.  

STATE YOUR CASE

Know exactly why you want to take a sabbatical and present a convincing case to your employer, advises Stoddard. 

Showcase how the time off will improve your performance, how travelling will enrich your professional approach, or how the new skills you will bring back will benefit your overall team, she adds (see How forced downtime can lead to brilliant ideas).

“That will give you a more bullet-proof pitch when it comes to actually wanting to take that time off because you’ve thought through why you want to take the time off, what you’re going to do with it, and how it’s going to impact you once you return to work.” 

CONSIDER THE RELATIONSHIP WITH YOUR BOSS

Karen Alexander Orr, of Toronto, Ont., who put her role as a manager with a major Canadian retailer on hold to take a six-month, unpaid sabbatical, was direct and honest. 

“We had a great relationship,” shares Alexander Orr. “We had a very open, honest conversation, and I asked for the six months and they made it work for me.”

Those with employers that offer sabbatical programs should get to know the rules and regulations, adds Stoddard. This includes: when a leave of absence is permitted; restrictions on working elsewhere, even part-time or freelance, while on leave; and whether you are eligible to receive benefits during that time. 

MAKE A PLAN

With your purpose intact, prepare for what the next few weeks or several months will look like, says Stoddard. Set a date to vacate and return to your position, suggest who can fill your shoes and how you’ll keep up-to-date while you are away, she suggests. Sticking with your purpose is key to making the most of your time away. 

For Alexander Orr, this meant easing a hectic life with two kids and two full-time working parents. She tackled procrastinated tasks, focused on her children’s needs and invested in self-care, which left evenings and weekends—once crammed—free for family time. 

“We decided we would do it as a trial…just to see if it helped, if it gave us some life-balance, if the boys were happier,” she says. “After the six months, it did. Life was better.” 

PAY ATTENTION TO FINANCES

Ensure you’re able to survive financially, as most sabbaticals go unpaid. 

Dipping into savings—via your registered retirement savings plan (RRSP) or tax-free savings account (TFSA)—is one way to fund those work-free months, suggests Sun Life Financial, keeping in mind that RRSP withdrawals are taxed, where TFSAs are not. You could also use a line of credit to finance the endeavour but beware of interest accumulated and regular payment obligations.

Alternatively, suggests Sun Life, check with your employer to see if a Deferred Salary Leave Arrangement or Plan (DSLP) is an option. This allows you to spread your salary out over a pre-determined stretch of time up to a certain amount, meaning you would take home less while working, and the remainder while on sabbatical. 

ADVANCE YOUR CAREER

Making the most of your career may mean taking necessary, but well thought-out, risks. Find out how to do so with The Fine Art of Persuading and Influencing Others? Or learn how to Sharpen Your Communication Skills with These 3 Tips.