Don't just sit there, take a sabbatical; Now anyone can have a long break from work to travel or rediscover themselves.

Source: The Evening Standard (London, England)
Date: 8/19/2003
Author: Hart, Justina

Sabbaticals originated in the academic sector and mean a long period off work (usually unpaid) to do something constructive. It used to be the case that you had to jack in your job to take one.

Today, with careful planning, you may be able to learn a new skill, travel or indulge a burning creative urge with your employer's consent.

According to a new survey by First Rate Travel Services, 10 million Brits are currently planning an extended break. Famous celebrities who have taken sabbaticals include Billie Piper and Chris Evans, who went to Spain, while Geri Halliwell took time off in Los Angeles.

The intensification of work pressures, coupled with our "do it now" culture, mean that many ordinary employees view two or more months off the job as a way of avoiding burnout and living life to the full. The under-25s want to enjoy life before they are shackled with responsibility; 26-45-year-olds tend to take time out to rediscover themselves; while the 46-60 age group is keen to bask in the sun.

And organisations are slowly catching up. "Sabbaticals are today's ultimate retention tool," says Sarah Thomas, regional manager of OfficeTeam, a secretarial recruiter. "Many employers now recognise the benefit - employees return with increased loyalty and enthusiasm."

First, check if your organisation has a policy on sabbaticals: some allow you to take a break after a number of years' service, while others only allow senior executives time away from the grind.

Plan to do something with a selfdevelopmentor vocational element-and your employer may react more warmly. "It also depends on the labour market you're in," says Charles Cotton, an adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. "In the late Nineties, good IT programmers could get time out because they were almost irreplaceable."

"As a PA or office manager, you will need to demonstrate substantial value and service to an organisation," says a spokesperson at the Pertemps recruitment agency. Blunt economic calculations play a part. If your company has invested heavily to develop you, it makes sense to retain you when you return. You will be more indispensable if your role is specialised or in a niche sector.

"If you have peaks and troughs, build a case to take a break in a slow period," says Cotton, and think of the time element. "If you take a two-month sabbatical, you'll be back before your company gets around to recruiting a replacement." Explain how you will arrange things to cause minimum disruption.

Sara Bacon, 28, a secretary with AA Appointments, a travel recruitment company, took a four-month sabbatical this year to travel the world with her partner, returning to the same job.

"I spent three months in India in 1997 so I had long dreamed of doing another big trip," she says.

Like many companies in the travel business, her firm had to make redundancies after 11 September.

Then, with the Gulf War looming, the industry experienced another downturn.

Sara ended up doing what could be called a "recession sabbatical".

"Thinking more jobs might be lost, I actually handed my notice in," says Sara, "but my company built a case for me to use it as a sabbatical. I was really thrilled.

"It was nice to get out of the rat-race for four months, and I've come back with a much better knowledge of Spanish. After travelling, I'm actually rather enjoying the daily routine."


. Be strategic: certain fields, such as travel or the public sector, will be more receptive.

. Be realistic: wait until you have the skills that will make your employer want to keep your job open for you.

. Think laterally: if your employer says no, could you store up holiday and carry it over to the next year to take a long break, or buy extra days?

. Build a business case: time off to improve a language you use in your job sounds better than three months to backpack around Asia.

. Be practical: get your employer's agreement to keep your job open in writing, and discuss how the sabbatical will affect things like your pension.