I have often written about how to negotiate a sabbatical on this blog but today’s example is a bit of a unique one.
Negotiating a sabbatical when your company doesn’t have a policy is a very different situation. It involves an added level of creativity and bravery, as you are asking for something that isn’t established within your workplace.
Jennifer Fitzpatrick from TheNomadicFitzpatricks.com is one person who has made exactly this happen.
Jennifer managed to negotiate a sabbatical with her boss by carefully preparing for the discussion and selling the benefits for both her and him.
Not only did she manage to take a sabbatical, but she did so amicably and was given the option of returning to her job when she returned.
Below is exactly how she went about it….
Top Tips For Negotiating a Sabbatical
Here are some universal tips for negotiating a sabbatical that will work regardless of whether or not your employer has a policy.
- Be really clear with what you’re asking for. Know your dates and how long you want to take
- Be clear on why you want to take the sabbatical and what it means to you
- Have a plan for who will cover you, or give a reasonable notice period so the company to be able to find a replacement
- Consider when the key times of the year are for your business and try to avoid them (E.G. end of the financial year for accountancy)
- Consider any benefits there may be for the business in you taking a sabbatical and call them out in the meeting (E.G. stepping someone up to cover you will create a stronger long-term succession plan)
- Write out in advance any questions you think you might be asked and practice answering them
- Follow up the meeting with a letter so the key points are on paper
- Learn some basic negotiation techniques so you are confident going in
If you are not a confident negotiator, then I fully empathise! It is certainly not one of my strengths either. Getting To Yes is the best book I’ve ever read on the subject and has helped me in many situations, from asking my boss for a sabbatical to haggling in the markets of Southeast Asia!
- Fisher, Roger (Author)
- English (Publication Language)
Interview With Jennifer
Why did you decided to take a sabbatical?
I decided to take a sabbatical for many reasons, but I think one reason stood out the most.
I wanted to travel long-term.
After taking a three-week honeymoon in 2016, my husband Dylan and I had a strong amount of wanderlust that didn’t seem to be going away. About a year later, when our last week-long vacation in April 2017 was said and done, we both realized something had to change.
With the stresses of our jobs and the desire to do more with our lives than just work, we felt a sabbatical could be the ideal opportunity. It would enable us to break out of the conventional normality of life and the comfort zones we had begun to build.
I wanted so badly to try new things while also exploring, learning, and growing, but I was very nervous. Negotiating a sabbatical with my boss was one of the first steps I took to start this adventure toward a new mindset, new lifestyle, and new career as a travel blogger!
What prep work did you do before speaking to your boss?
I had many conversations with my husband Dylan. Dylan and I spoke together about our goals for taking a sabbatical in our lives and what it would mean to us. We understood the financial aspect of taking a sabbatical, and realized we were in a position to do so if we saved, downsized, and worked on travelling to cheaper destinations.
I investigated sabbatical policies in my school district and researched other district’s policies as well. Upon learning there was no sabbatical policy written into our contract, I then reached out to other coworkers, union members, and colleagues who could shed some light.
Most people did not express as much interest in my desire to leave my job to travel, and one person even suggested that I should wait until I retire at age sixty. What?! Thankfully, my colleague Lisa was a great source of inspiration who had travelled extensively at my age, and encouraged me to ask questions and find out for myself.
After I discovered that no policy existed in my own district, nor the state, I had to get creative.
I sat down and thought about the benefits of taking a gap year in a professional sense, and not just a personal one. In my desire to travel, I had a strong pull to explore the Spanish-speaking world. Peru, Chile, and Argentina were at the top of my list, and I wanted to get back to Spain and visit my study abroad family and friends. Visiting Spanish-speaking countries, getting real-life language practice, and exposing myself to new cultures would only enhance what I did as a Spanish teacher.
How did the conversation with your boss go?
The conversation took place in June of 2017, a few weeks before the end of the school year. I wanted to ask about taking off for the 2018-2019 school year, and I thought a year’s notice was plenty of time for finding a substitute and working out the specifics.
I felt nervous that day, but confident. I had a very supportive boss who was open to new ideas and was always willing to have discussions about any type of topic. After I mentioned my idea for taking a sabbatical, I immediately felt a weight lifted from my shoulders. He was supportive right away, and said “I think it’s a great idea”. It felt wonderful to have that immediate backing and encouragement!
Though my boss did not have the final say on the approval, he backed the idea and supported it all the way to the higher levels of administration. When I sat down to have a similar conversation with my principal, I realized my boss had already gone and vouched for me to everyone else above him. He really valued me as an employee and understood this would be an opportunity to enhance my teaching career. I am so grateful he had my back!
READ NEXT: You can find more useful tips on speaking to work about your sabbatical here: How To Ask For A Sabbatical [And Get One]
I ended up teaching the following school year 2017-2018, and then took my sabbatical during the 2018-2019 school year.
Dylan was actually able to take a sabbatical as well! His engineering job permitted him to take six months off. So I spent the first half of my sabbatical planning & tutoring as we prepared for a round the world trip.
Together, we spent six months backpacking around the world to more than twelve countries in a year. It was without a doubt the best thing we have ever done as a couple, and now we are working on trying to make it our permanent lifestyle.
What advice would you give to someone trying to negotiate a sabbatical?
Don’t put it off.
Go for it, and make it happen!
I used to feel so stuck all the time. I would walk around thinking something was missing our lives. Then I realized we both needed a chance to try a different lifestyle. We wanted to let go of society’s expectations for us – buying a house, having kids, getting a dog – and try something else!
Think about how taking a sabbatical will enrich your life – and not just for your employer. Think about the talents you can hone in on, the opportunities for growth, the chance to travel, to explore, to try something completely out of the ordinary. You’ll feel more like yourself than ever before.
Once you can think about all the benefits for yourself, then think about how you can utilize that creative time toward your job or career. By travelling to Spanish-speaking countries, I was able to practice the second language I had spent half my life learning, to observe cultures and customs, to visit key historical sites, and to fully immerse myself in the Hispanic world once more. I’m shortly into the new school year, but there have been conversations with my students about travelling, my sabbatical, and where I visited!
Any hints and tips to get a positive result?
I would definitely give your employer ample notice.
I gave my school district an entire school year to approve the time off, organise to find a long-term substitute, and to finalize this decision with the administration/human resources with appropriate paperwork.
Additionally, I would suggest speaking to a trusted friend, colleague, or family member for support and to share ideas with before speaking with your boss. You can brainstorm together about the many ideas for how a sabbatical will enrich your career, which you can then bring back to your boss when you meet.
How were you treated when you returned to work?
Interestingly enough, I had fully intended to return back to my school district this September.
My job was available and waiting for me, but I just couldn’t do it.
I realized that the last year had been so transformative that I had to keep the mindset going.
I was offered a Spanish teaching position in a different school district, and I took a leap of faith and went for it. It has been absolutely wonderful so far, and I was able to amicably part ways with my previous school.
My experience taking a sabbatical was a positive one, and I’m grateful to have been able to pull it off when there was no policy to begin with!
If you are interesting in taking a sabbatical from work, then head over to ‘Everything You Need to Know About a Sabbatical and Your Career‘.
If you’re looking for some sabbatical inspiration then find some more great stories and destinations at the ‘Sabbatical Inspiration‘ page.
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