A stable job, reasonably good salary, and promising future prospects – you have it all. But there is still niggling discontent at the back of your head. It doesn’t let you sit back and enjoy the present. Instead, it nudges you to step out of the comfort zone for a while and try out something new. Sounds familiar? Not to worry – what afflicts you is loosely described as “the mid-life career crisis”.
What you wish to do as an alternative to your staid work life can vary from person to person. You might be harbouring a great startup idea, or thirsting for an adventure such as a Himalayan expedition or a backpacking trip across the world. An NRI might want to spend quality time with parents at his/her native town, and explore the idea of getting back for good, or you may want to stay at home for a few months and pick up a new skill.
Irrespective of the reason why you seek a break from your work routine, there are only two ways in which you can take things forward. Some people are self-assured risk takers and are willing to quit their present jobs without looking back. That’s option one – taking a leap and being ready for any consequences that ensue. However, there is another option – a sabbatical. It’s still a jump, albeit with a safety net below.
It’s all very well for you to want a career break and still hope to keep your job intact. But why would an employer want that? Why should a company let you go and do your own thing? What’s in it for them? How can you get them to see a win-win situation in your request? Let’s find out.
A sabbatical commonly refers to an employee’s break from work for a period of two months to a year. But employees must prepare themselves for this break well in advance. First things first, ensure that your performance at work for the last few quarters is exemplary. This gives you leverage when you place your request. An employer will usually think twice about disregarding a top performer’s request. Of course, being an old timer in the company adds weight to your case.
Except for maternity leave, there is no other reason for which you can rightfully claim a sabbatical by law. Most companies do not even have a long leave policy, so there is no compulsion for the company to heed your request. So if you want your case to be heard, make sure you are valuable to them. They must feel that losing you permanently is undesirable, only then will they look upon giving you a break as a preferable alternative.
When you take your case to your higher-ups, present the true reason why you seek a break. Subterfuge in such matters is counter-productive.
Present a clear work transition plan, identify a possible replacement, and offer to recruit and train your replacement before going. Give them clear return dates so that the managers can alter project plans accordingly. If, for some reason, you choose not to come back after the agreed period of absence, honour your pending commitments at work and follow the proper exit procedure.
If your sabbatical plan is related to exploring a startup idea or continuing education, be explicit about it. Tell your managers why you wish to keep your existing job. It helps to take your reporting manager into confidence. When they fully understand your reasons, they are likely to cooperate better.
Cite relevant examples of the sabbatical policy in other companies. SAP Labs has an official policy allowing employees to take two-year sabbaticals to become entrepreneurs. The State Bank of India allows staff to take time off for purposes of children’s education and taking care of elderly parents.
It’s also a fairly common practice in the academic and medical fields so that people can equip themselves with additional training, take up community service, or even write a book.
Unlike general leave of absence, sabbaticals are generally paid leave. So the company needs to pay you as well as your replacement during your absence. That’s a huge ask. Unless the company sees enough value to offset this overhead, they are unlikely to consent.
While being away, you could offer to further the company’s interests in other ways. Let’s say one’s wife has been offered an awesome job posting overseas for a year. Obviously, the husband would want to tag along. But while abroad, if he can research the overseas market and build a business case for expanding his company’s footprint, it would be a huge plus for the company. It would greatly justify the sabbatical.
When you come back, you are likely to be better skilled and more widely experienced because of the diverse exposure. Long periods of work often cause burnout. A break might rejuvenate you and kick up your performance. If you can convince the company of these facts, that’s a point in your favour.
Companies offering sabbaticals as one of the prerequisites in their recruitment package are seen as progressive and employee-friendly. They are likelier to attract highly skilled talent.
In some cases, companies feel it necessary to include an employment bond as a pre-condition before granting the sabbatical. That way, they can ensure that an employee returning after reskilling or a startup experience remains with them for a minimum period. There is some merit in that argument but is not easily implementable.
Ralph Waldo Emerson quotes, “All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make, the better.” Go right ahead and experiment with your career – take that sabbatical, and come back to work doubly recharged.