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If you’re craving change, a sabbatical may be the answer

What a year we’ve had. The levels of disruption are unprecedented in my lifetime, and there’s no end in sight to furloughs, cancelled foreign holidays and being apart from our families.

Many of us are craving routine and can’t wait to be back in the office. But the events of the last year have made a lot of us stop, look around and realise we’re not actually where we want to be. After months of upheaval, making life-changing decisions isn’t advisable. A major move may seem like a good idea now, but will we still feel the same when things return to normal (whenever that may be, and whatever it might look like)?

The answer could lie in taking a sabbatical. Many employers offer the opportunity to take up to a year unpaid but this isn’t always actively promoted, so it’s worth checking first of all if this is an option. If not, seek out a proactive conversation well in advance of making any plans.

Frame the conversation as an opportunity for development that can be mutually beneficial, but be honest and don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep. There’s a big difference between wanting to travel before committing to a mortgage and spending six months in a different country with a view to emigrating.

If you are keen to stay with the organisation, make that very clear. Whether it’s a new or improved foreign language, experience of a different culture in an area where the organisation does business, or learning a whole new skill-set by volunteering for an overseas charity, you’ll be returning as someone with valuable experience.

This could also be an opportunity for your employer to develop someone else into a more senior role. If you can identify a junior colleague who is ready for progression and suggest they hold the fort in your absence, this will ultimately benefit the organisation.

Any agreement should be made in writing, and well in advance of the sabbatical. Include the timing, the notice periods, the expectations and the rights and obligations of each party.

Like any negotiation, it should include give and take and each party should come away with something. Honesty and flexibility on both sides will result in a healthy working relationship that’s much more likely to benefit both you and your company the long run.