Nov 12, 2013

    How to go about asking for sabbatical


    JOSEPH Bubman took six months off his job as a management consultant two years ago to work with a charity in Kenya and Guatemala. It was something he had dreamed of doing and he spent almost a year planning it.

    "I was able to have a unique life experience and it afforded me opportunities I wouldn't have once I returned to my employer," he said. "I would absolutely do it again if I could."

    It may seem unwise, in these economically shaky times, to request time off, even without pay. Some people fear that the mere act of asking will make them look less committed than their colleagues.

    Or send a signal that they are thinking of leaving their current job. Or hurt their chances for promotion or a raise.

    While none of that is necessarily so, it's more important than ever to plan how you will approach your employer and to think in terms of a mini-sabbatical - a month or two to do something you have always dreamed of doing - rather than six months to a year.

    First of all, said Ms Pat Katepoo, founder of WorkOptions, which is aimed at helping employees negotiate for flexible work time, you would be wise to not even ask for a sabbatical unless you have been at a place four or five years.

    And make sure you are considered a valuable employee, as well as have some sense of how supportive your boss might be.

    "How does she react if you say you need to pick up your kid or take your mother to an appointment?" Ms Katepoo said. That might indicate how receptive she is to the concept of a mini-sabbatical.

    Six weeks is a good time period for a mini or short-term sabbatical because it allows a full month to go overseas or immerse yourself in a programme, with one week at either end to get ready and decompress.

    But don't just shoot off an e-mail message to your supervisor asking her to consider the idea. It takes a lot more work than that.

    "A sabbatical takes a good deal of research," said Ms Barbara Pagano, co-founder of YourSabbatical, which helps companies and individuals develop sabbatical programmes. "I would suggest a year to prepare."

    But before you even hint about your interest:

    Draw up a proposal, stating the purpose of your sabbatical in a few sentences.

    Describe how this could benefit your employer.

    Detail how your work will be covered while you are gone.

    Decide whether or not you will be accessible and how.

    "The first question will be, How will your work get done?, so be sure the work-coverage piece makes a strong case," she said.

    Everything else - pay, benefits, length of time, whether you need to use vacation or other paid time off - should be up for discussion.

    Don't assume you won't get paid, even if it seems unlikely. Maybe all six weeks or six months won't be covered, but perhaps some of it will be.

    "Expect pushback, but prepare for it," Ms Katepoo said.

    And don't feel every sabbatical has to accomplish something. Just having a breather from work promotes well-being and reduces stress and burnout, research has shown.