Can you actually take a sabbatical now?

And are you risking your job if you do?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

And are you risking your job if you do? 

While on the sabbatical, .... It broadens perspective and makes personal and professional priorities clearer.”
While on the sabbatical, .... It broadens perspective and makes personal and professional priorities clearer.”

Maybe it’s enrolling for a pastry course in France. Or hiking the mountains of Nepal.

It could even be working on a project right here in Singapore. Whatever the scenario, you probably have an idea of what you would do if you took some time off work. But the question is: could you really make it happen?

If you’ve been itching to take a sabbatical, you must have also been wondering if you deserve one. After all, as a 20-something who’s only been in the rat race a couple of years, taking a break might seem strange. Many professionals rarely go on holiday, much less take a sabbatical. And even when they do, they’ve usually been working for quite some time.

First things first: know what it is

A sabbatical is an extended break from your job, so very much like a long vacation. It typically lasts between two months and a year and you’re expected to return to your job after. On the other hand, a career break involves quitting your job and doing something completely different.

Know your reasons

People usually take a sabbatical or embark on a career break for professional or personal reasons. If it’s professional, they feel burned out and want to re-energise or expand their skillset via study. If it’s personal, they want to focus more on the other areas of their lives or spend time with family. 

If you’ve been feeling weary on the job, ask yourself if a vacation will help. Make the getaway longer if you have to, but if you think you’ll return feeling better, you probably don’t need to be considering an extended break. 

If you’re seeking self-development, it’s a good idea to pinpoint exactly what you wish to do so you can justify it to your boss when the time comes. Whether it’s volunteering or pursuing passions, it’s helpful if they could understand how it would not only benefit you, but also the company in the long run (for example: new skills that you could contribute). 

“While on the sabbatical, the employee has an opportunity to explore new ideas, travel… work on a special project, take care of family needs, and much more. It broadens perspective and makes personal and professional priorities clearer,” says Nancy Bearg, co-author of the book Reboot Your Life: Energizing Your Career and Life By Taking A Break.

Know your company

However, you’ve also got to figure out your odds of having a sabbatical approved. First, find out if your company has a sabbatical policy and if so, what its guidelines are. Sabbaticals are typically only granted to people who’ve been in service for a certain period time, so find out if there’s a minimum number of years you should have worked. The norm for big corporations is one year for every seven years with the company.

 If there’s a policy in place but you’ve yet to hit the minimum number of years, it might be best wait it out. If there isn’t a sabbatical policy, you could talk to HR and find out if colleagues have done something similar.

However, it’s easy to be “out of sight, out of mind”, and if you vanish for too long without first establishing your position at your workplace, it could lead to job suicide. No one is indispensable, so you’ve got to weigh your options and see if job security or personal satisfaction matters more to you. Even if technically your position should be there when you return, this isn’t always the case.

Should you decide to talk to your boss, go in well-prepared with a strong case, including a list of accomplishments at your company, which can help justify your leave of absence.

You should be able to explain clearly why you want to take a break, what you’ll be doing and how you propose your workload could be divided while you’re gone. Be prepare to negotiate the duration and also offer to keep in touch.

Much as you don’t want to be thinking about work while enjoying your me-time, being contactable or even doing some work occassionally will give your company more reason to say yes.

Know your limits

In your 20s, you probably also don’t have many liabilities, and will be able to give your full attention to whatever activity you’ve committed to. The downside is that you may not have the financial resources to sustain a long break.

Whether you’re planning to travel or study, you’ve got to budget very carefully and factor in expenses and regular payments like phone and insurance bills.

Ultimately, it’s essential that your break should be worry-free (if not, what’s the point). Whether it’s about still having a job when you get back, or being able to fully finance your sabbatical; make sure you have a plan before you get started.

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If you can’t take a sabbatical now…

If your company won’t grant you a sabbatical but you’re in dire need of a break, maybe consider going on a career break. Sure, unemployment is scary, but if you know exactly how you’ll be making use of your time, the “adult gap year” can be very fulfilling. Which is exactly what Sheila Melbye, 34, found out.

“I was 30 when I took a career break. It wasn’t a conscious decision and at first it was only supposed to be a short holiday from work, but that trip just led to more trips. It was however a very welcomed break and it gave me the time to think about what a ‘career’ means to me.

My career break lasted a year and I think it’s a good idea if you have the financial means for it. At times, it can affect you when other people call you ‘jobless’, and sometimes your wallet feels the pinch. But the year away helped put into perspective what I want out of my life and my career. It’s a liberating experience as now I don’t feel the need to live up to what society defines as successful.” After a year of adventures, she returned to the workforce with a new role in a similar industry. 

Images Text Adora Wong.