Q&A: What Is a Sabbatical?

Updated September 30, 2022

Whether you're hoping to focus on developing a skill, start a side project or simply engage in meaningful rest, taking an extended leave from a full-time job may be a good decision for you. Sabbatical is the term people use for taking this type of leave and it can offer numerous benefits for your health and your career. In this article, we discuss sabbaticals, including who can take one, the reasons for taking one and how to ask your employer if you can take a sabbatical.

Are you paid during a sabbatical?

Depending on the nature of your work, a sabbatical may be paid or unpaid, but it guarantees a return to your position at the end of the leave.

Who can take a sabbatical?

It's a misconception that sabbaticals are reserved for university faculty. Moreover, many people assume you need to be at a certain level in your career to consider a sabbatical or that your sabbatical activities must be directly related to your job. These misconceptions keep far too many employees from enjoying extended leave.

Read more: Sabbaticals: What They Are and When You Should Take One

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Q&A: What is a Sabbatical?
A sabbatical is an extended leave from your job that guarantees your position when you return. It can be paid or unpaid depending on your employer, and is often only offered to employees who have been with the company for several years.

Taking a sabbatical gives you the chance to:

  • travel the world

  • complete personal goals

  • participate in your community

  • connect with nature

  • rest

  • participate in a relaxing activity

  • spend time with loved ones

  • go back to school

What is the purpose of taking a sabbatical?

There are countless reasons why taking an extended leave from work is a good idea. A sabbatical gives you the chance to focus on personal and professional goals. From improving your health to learning a new skill, there are several positive outcomes that can result from taking time off.

Taking a sabbatical also means returning to work with renewed energy. Coming back to work after a sabbatical may lead you to feel the same joy and excitement as when you first started your job. Many companies respect and encourage sabbaticals when taken appropriately, and acknowledge their ability to keep employees motivated and reduce burnout.

How long is sabbatical leave?

A sabbatical can last anywhere from two months to a year. In general, six months is the standard length of time for a paid sabbatical. It gives you enough time and flexibility to do things such as travel, study or tend to personal obligations as a parent or caregiver. Keep in mind that you should not create a sabbatical with accumulated sick days or vacation days, which requires different kinds of planning and employer permissions.

How long a sabbatical lasts could also depend on the nature of your job. For example, a university professor might take a sabbatical for one full academic year. Corporate jobs may offer a few months of sabbatical leave as one of the perks of employment. As such, choosing a career that offers opportunities for sabbatical leave may be at the top of your list of priorities if this is something you value.

What can you do while on sabbatical?

There are many different activities you might do while on sabbatical. The way you decide to spend your time should be focused on revitalizing your mind and body in a way that allows you to be a better employee, find more satisfaction at work.
Many people also choose to volunteer during their sabbatical leave. Maybe you always wanted to join the Peace Corps, for example, but were too focused on starting your new job after college. Whatever you end up doing during your sabbatical leave, the idea is to pursue a specific goal.

Related: 10 Great Sabbatical Ideas

How can you take a sabbatical from work?

To take a sabbatical, you should prepare a plan of action. Here are several steps you should take when considering whether a sabbatical is right for you:

1. Talk to your employer

Start by speaking with your employer about their sabbatical policy. They might require you to have worked at the company for a certain number of years or meet other requirements for eligibility. If the company doesn't offer extended leave as an employment perk, ask about other ways you might be able to take extended leave.

If they do not offer any type of extended leave options, you might prepare a statement about how a work sabbatical will benefit both you and the company. For example, it could help cut costs temporarily, give you a chance to improve job-specific skills or enable you to return with extra research or a project that benefits the company. You can also research sabbatical jobs on Indeed.com to get a fresh start with a career that offers these types of benefits.

2. Make a plan

Once you've been approved to take a sabbatical, determine the length of your leave. Keep in mind the financial impact of your leave and any scheduling obligations you may have. This may mean planning at least a year in advance of actually taking the sabbatical.

Consider setting up a dedicated savings account and putting away as much as you can before your leave begins. You’ll also want to consider your living situation while you’re on leave. If you plan to travel, you may not want to pay rent for the period of time you’ll be away.

3. Leave respectfully

Before you leave, you should work with your employer to ensure the company does not suffer while you are away. This might include completing certain projects before you leave, delegating your work and/or assigning someone to handle emergencies on your behalf. You should also establish a plan for how to get back up to speed when you return.

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