Ask The Expert: How To Plan For A Sabbatical From Work

Taking extended time off work to pursue personal interests is becoming more common. Here’s what you should know before deciding to go on long leave. 

By Sasha Gonzales        1 September 2022

These days, it’s not unusual for people to go on a sabbatical. There are many reasons why someone would request for an extended period of unpaid leave, among them, wanting to further their studies, travel or pursue personal interests and hobbies, spend more time with their loved ones, or simply to reassess their life and work on self-improvement. 

Whatever your motivation for taking a sabbatical, it’s important to plan ahead, especially when it comes to your finances. You should also consider how taking time off will affect your job, company and career progression, and ensure that you have the support of your spouse or family members, since your lack of income may affect them too. 

Paul Heng, founder and managing director of NeXT Career Consulting Group, shares what you need to know before applying for sabbatical leave.

Q: Why would someone want to take a sabbatical? 

Paul: Having worked from home since the pandemic began, many people have discovered that there’s so much more to life than their job. They’ve enjoyed having extra time to pursue their hobbies, take care of their kids or be with their loved ones. They might also have been able to strike a healthier work-life balance and have grown accustomed to this feeling of not having their life revolve around their job. Now that companies are calling their employees back to the office, people are finding it hard to let go of their freedom, so they might decide to take a sabbatical to continue working on their personal and family interests.  

Here are more tips to achieve a work-life balance, from setting boundaries to practising self-care.

Q: How do I get my employer to approve my request for a sabbatical?      

Paul: Not every employer would be supportive of your request, especially if the team or company is small and your position is difficult to fill. Or, your boss might approve your request but tell you that your job may not be there when you return. So, it can be a challenge for some companies. What you should do is organise an in-person meeting with your boss to explain why you need to take time off. You should also propose ideas for how the work’s going to get done during your absence. It’s worthwhile checking whether your company has a sabbatical policy.

Q: If my request for a sabbatical is denied, how do I negotiate an arrangement that allows me to continue working from home, say, two or three days a week? 

Paul: This isn’t an unreasonable request. If your bosses are open to the idea, then you can work out a suitable arrangement with them. When it comes to negotiating such ideas, though, remember to have a few solutions up your sleeve. Don’t expect your employer to figure out who will do your job while you’re away or to “save” your job for when you get back. Ultimately, it’s still your job and you have some responsibility for it, even if you won’t be in the office physically. 

Q: How should I plan my finances so that I can afford to take an extended period off work?

Paul: Most sabbaticals are of a no-pay nature, so you’ll need to ensure that you have enough money saved before applying for time off. Be prepared to adjust your budget and reassess your living expenses while on sabbatical, especially if you’re the sole breadwinner or contribute to the family income. 

Read on for money-saving tips, from budgeting for meals to making your savings work harder.

Q: How should I “hand over” my job and how do I transition back when I return?  

Paul: Do a complete handover to the person who’ll be temporarily replacing you. Give them a clear description of your role, discuss what’s expected of them, and go through any tasks they’ll need to take over. Introduce them to the people they’ll be working with. Make sure they have access to everything they need to do their job. Remind them that they can contact you if they run into any problems. It’s a similar procedure when you return to work after your sabbatical – your temporary replacement should update you on everything important that’s taken place while you were away and what you need to follow up on.

Q: What are some advantages and disadvantages of taking a sabbatical? 

Paul: It depends on your reasons for taking a break in the first place, but generally, it’s a great opportunity to rest and recharge. You may also return to work with a clearer mind and a renewed sense of purpose. Most people appreciate having the chance to pursue their hobbies or studies or spend time with their children, spouse, parents and loved ones. 

The disadvantages vary, too – in addition to the lack of income, you can’t be certain that your job will be waiting for you when you return. Some people may also feel restless and bored while on leave, which is why it’s important to be clear about what you want to achieve during your sabbatical. 

Are you an NSman looking for a new career, or just want to see what’s out there? Check out safra.sg/jobs-for-nsmen for potential employers.

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