A Guide to Sabbatical Leave in the UK

Taking an extended break from work is becoming more popular. Employees from around the world are finding that flexible working models aren’t meeting their needs for a healthy work-life balance. Therefore, the number of people taking sabbaticals is growing. Popular reasons for taking a period of time away from work include:

  • To take a break from the stress of work
  • To improve mental and physical health
  • To go travelling or experience life in a different country
  • To spend more time with family

Are you considering taking a sabbatical? Below, Expatriate Group shine a light on the logistics of taking time off work and whether you would benefit from an extended period away from work.

What is sabbatical leave?

A sabbatical is a temporary period off work, typically between two months and a year. However, this can be much longer. What you do with the time is completely up to you and does not need to be relayed to your employer.

There are no universal rules and regulations for taking a sabbatical. Nor is there general guidance per country – it boils down to your employer. Understandably, discussing a sabbatical with your employer well in advance is key. Open and honest conversation with whoever manages such matters, whether this is a director or an HR department, is the best place to start. It’s also advised to follow up any conversations with an email so that a paper trail is crated for your records.

Why would you need to take sabbatical leave?

In some sectors sabbaticals aren’t uncommon. Particularly in medical fields, sabbaticals are part and parcel of senior roles, with employees taking time away from their day-to-day role to study, research, or volunteer.

However, sabbaticals can be taken for personal reasons too. Just like many students take a gap year before going in to further education, a sabbatical can be used to travel, focus on your mental or physical health, or spend time with family. Considering many people spend years with the same employer, it is understandable that an elongated period away from work to focus on themselves is attractive.

Employers do not have to grant sabbatical leave. Many companies fear losing valuable team members; employees not coming back to work after their sabbatical leave ends. However, the benefits of a sabbatical can be beneficial for staff retention. Businesses and companies that grant sabbaticals show employees they care about their wellbeing and understand that whilst work is important, personal development and health comes first. If the employee is taking a sabbatical to study or take part in a research project, the employers will benefit from the additional skills picked up when they return to work.

Who can take a sabbatical?

Anyone can take a sabbatical – you simply need to discuss it with your employer. Even if it is not commonplace in your role, voicing the benefits to your employer may help encourage the practice to become normalised. Many people assume that sabbaticals are taken by academics to aid professional development. However, people from all walks of life are now taking sabbaticals for a myriad of reasons.

Some companies actively support employees in taking sabbaticals. They may be referred to as employments breaks or lifestyle breaks. These organisations recognise the advantages of granting employees elongated periods away from work.

How long can my sabbatical be?

You may have a ballpark figure in mind. But the length of your sabbatical is down to the discretion of your employer. You will need to discuss leave and return dates with them, as well as the terms and conditions of your sabbatical.

Generally, sabbaticals range from two months to one year. Whilst on leave you can request an extension. However, again, it is down to your employer as to whether they agree to this or not.

How can I ask to go on sabbatical leave?

If your employer doesn’t currently have any policies or procedures in place for people wishing to take a sabbatical don’t let this deter you. You will need to consider the financial implications – would an unpaid sabbatical be viable for you? Do you have a specific period you would like to take off or are you flexible? How would you personally benefit from a sabbatical, and could this be advantageous for your employer?

Put a case together for your employer and present it to them in a meeting. You can always send the proposal as an email for them to absorb first before meeting if this would help. Whilst it is helpful to voice the value of a sabbatical for both yourself and your employer, it can be as simple as stating your need a mental health break and this will allow you to come back to work rejuvenated and ready to give 110%.

Whether putting forward your case via a face-to-face meeting or a letter, perhaps provide some guidance on how your role could be covered. Could you help with employing a temporary member of staff? Could your tasks be divided up between remaining staff? Offering a solution, or the willingness to seek a solution, will only help support your case.

Once you have put forward your request it is up to your employer (or HR team) to grant or deny your sabbatical. Give them time to come back with a response, particularly if this is the first time they have ever been asked. If your employer grants your sabbatical, they will need to draw up a sabbatical leave agreement with you. If they deny your request, you may need to have a meeting to discuss options.

If your employer already has a sabbatical leave policy, you will simply need to follow the process set out by them.

What should a sabbatical leave agreement detail?

Your employer will need to provide you with a written contract of agreement. Your sabbatical leave details will need to be detailed and the following is the bare minimum that should be included:

  • Sabbatical leave dates
  • Continuity of service
  • Any limitations
  • Details of any annual leave being used
  • What’s happening to employee benefits
  • Pay details
  • Return date and process

Should I take a sabbatical?

Everyone needs a break. If you’ve been in your role for a number of years, it may come as not surprise that you need time off for whatever reason. Whilst employees are granted an annual leave allowance in most countries by law, sometimes it is not enough to give the time away from work to study, travel, or simply reset mentally.

A sabbatical is a constructive period away from work and the benefits are many for both employees and employers. Many companies and businesses even include sabbaticals as part of their employee benefits packages.

If you feel like you’d benefit from a sabbatical, broach the topic with your employer. Everyone needs some time to focus on themselves, so why shouldn’t you? If you’re planning on travelling or moving abroad whilst on your sabbatical, don’t forget to take a look at our International Health Insurance and International Travel Insurance products to ensure your protected whilst overseas.

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