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How To Convince Your Boss To Let You Take A Sabbatical

Taking time away can help you refocus and come back better than ever. But asking for three months off is going to be a hard sell.

How To Convince Your Boss To Let You Take A Sabbatical
[Photo: Spencer Watson/Unsplash]

Regardless if it’s the need to cure burnout on a lush island in Thailand, or heal from a painful divorce or death in your family, there are times when your personal life must be prioritized over work. During these transitional moments, it can become increasingly difficult to concentrate on your responsibilities, since your attention and mind are pulling away from the chains of your desk. For many professionals, a sabbatical, or leave of absence, gives them the opportunity to disconnect and examine their next steps. Apart from the obvious benefit of a break, career coach Christina Piombetti says for a generation that’s ever-connected, a sabbatical can prevent a crash landing.

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“When employees get burned out, they often look to leave their jobs or go for a radical career change, but a sabbatical may be a better solution. Allowing sabbaticals leads to happier, more creative employees and overall better retention,” she explains.

But it’s not easy to convince your manager to let you take several weeks or months away from your job, says Vicki Salem, a career expert for Monster.com,. That’s why creating a strategic, smart, and convincing case for your temporary departure is essential. Is it worth the risk? Career experts think “yes”–but follow these steps to ensure your “I need a break” discussion goes well:

Find Examples Of Others Who Have Done It Successfully

Persuading your employer to think outside the cubicle will likely be a tough sell. That’s why career expert and cofounder of Early Stage Careers Jill Tipograph recommends researching not only your company, but the industry for any examples of like-minded employees who have managed to negotiate their case. “If there have not been prior sabbaticals, know you are the pioneer and that position is tough to sell. Bring into your plan cases from other similar companies to share; that education will prove valuable,” she shares.

If you don’t feel confident drafting and executing a case study utilizing research available and a concrete plan for your absence, Tipograh adds that there are many career coaches and resume clinics who will help you navigate this tricky inquiry. You can also try online services or pulling templates online, like this one.

Be Mindful Of Timing

Dependent on your industry, there are certain seasons and quarters that are more demanding than others. Tipograh stresses the importance of a well-timed meeting with your higher-ups, so you don’t appear insensitive to the needs of the company. The same tactic applies to when you actually take your one- to three-month leave: You want to ensure your request slot is during a period when you won’t be quite as needed. And of course, be flexible as you begin to state your reasoning. “Be sure your request occurs when there is a lull in company needs or seasonality, and your boss is not focused on challenges. It shouldn’t be when the company is in its peak time of business and revenue generation,” she explains. “Pre-test the concept by opening a dialogue well before your anticipated sabbatical.”

Come Prepared With Specific, Detailed Plans

In addition to mapping out the ideal timing for your sabbatical, you also want to enter the discussion with a detailed, specific plan that dictates everything you’ll be doing, why you’re doing it, and how you plan to return to the company, amped up and fresh-minded. “Creating a robust plan shows you’ve given this a considerable amount of time to think about and commit to,” Salemi says. When you go into the one-on-one, confidently present your proposal and be patient as you await feedback, as it might come in a string of questions (more on that later), or in a few days when they’ve had time to process the information.

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Illustrate How It Will Help The Company

If you’re hankering for time away from your business responsibilities because you’re feeling lackluster, uninspired, and overworked, it might be troublesome to understand how your leave will benefit your employer. But Salemi argues for using the master tool of creativity to explain otherwise. When you’re leaving for personal issues, a stint can actually leave you feeling reorganized and refreshed. Instead of completing tasks because you have to, you’ll return wanting to jump right in.”You’ll no longer have this bucket list item on the brain and you can concentrate more at work. Maybe you’ll be a master of time management and your creative juices will flow, thereby continuing their motion when you return to the office,” she adds.

Attorney and career branding expert Wendi Weiner also suggests involving the opportunity to network into your pitch. Especially if you’re leaving to travel, you’ll be exposed to various professionals around the globe, meaning you’ll inevitably cast a wider net that ultimately will benefit your employer. “Consider what you will bring back upon your return such as new knowledge, new clients, new skills. Think about how your sabbatical will impact the company and what the company can gain from it,” she says.

Be Ready To Answer Questions

As relieving as it would be to receive a resounding “yes” from your manager after you finish your pitch, it’s more likely he or she will be confused, taken aback, and possibly upset. In fact, it’s common for employers to take it personally, making it that much more important to best illustrate your “why.”

“In all negotiations, be prepared for potential concerns that your boss may have about your sabbatical. This might include the length of time required, whether or not you will return to your office, and why you need the time off in the first place. Answer any of those concerns from a neutral and creative space,” Tipograh says. “If you approach the negotiations from a place of gratitude, clarity, and openness, your boss will likely be more receptive. Focus on the benefits for you and your company, and this will lead to productive negotiations.”

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