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How to Negotiate a Sabbatical

How to Negotiate a Sabbatical

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on May 11, 2011

How to negotiate a sabbatical

A few weeks ago I wrote about How to Write a Sabbatical Proposal.  In this post I want to give you a few tips for presenting your sabbatical proposal.  This is a big step because you will be playing your hand at work.  Your secret is out and now everyone will know what it is you want to do.  This is where all the hard work you poured into writing your sabbatical proposal pays off.

But before you schedule a meeting with your boss or HR department and hand them your sabbatical proposal there are a few things you need to think about and get straight in your mind.  You probably only have one shot at this so make sure you are prepared and have you’re ‘A’ game on.  So before you march in and sound your battle cry consider these things.


You’re not making demands here, you are negotiating.  And that requires that you be flexible with certain aspects of your sabbatical, namely departure date (timing) and the longevity of your sabbatical.  Chances are if your boss is receptive to your sabbatical proposal he/she may want to make some modifications based on corporate/company policy or ongoing/future projects at work.

When I presented my proposal I was upfront about the dates I wanted but I also made it quite apparent that I was flexible with those dates and was open to negotiation.  As it turned out corporate policy at the company I work for only allows for 4 month maximum leave.  More on that in a bit.

Know Your Value

Like any business negotiation there has to be some value presented to the company.  If you spent the time crafting your sabbatical proposal (I highly recommend the “Negotiating Your Sabbatical” handbook) then you know what those values are.  Keep them at the forefront of your mind and bring them up at every opportunity during the negotiation.  Don’t be afraid to become that used car salesman you always fear if you have to.  Whatever it takes to get what you want right?

During my negotiation I concentrated on a new acquisition we had just made and how my skills would play a role in developing our services in that new area.  I wasn’t so much selling my sabbatical as I was selling myself as the best person to take on that role by showing my value and thus showing them that they needed me.  And really the more you are needed by your company the more likely you are to get your sabbatical approved.

Know Your Companies Values

Does your company tout certain values that fall in line with the goals of your sabbatical?  Maybe they tout themselves as a family oriented company.  Or maybe they advocate training and educational opportunities.  Whatever the core values of the company are see if they don’t fit into your own sabbatical goals and if they do make sure and bring that up during your negotiation.  If your sabbatical goals fall in line with company values and by achieving those goals you make yourself more valuable to the company then it looks much better for allowing your sabbatical.  Know what your company values, what’s important to them and then fit that into your sabbatical goals. 

Offer Solutions

Taking a sabbatical can obviously put a strain on team dynamics, work load distribution and other aspects of the work environment.  There may be some hard feelings from co-workers who will probably be wondering how much extra work is going to get placed on them.  They may not fully understand the benefits of your sabbatical.  Change can be hard for people.  It’s important to offer up solutions for these issues.

I knew going into the negotiations that one sticking point would be work coverage.  We have a team of 3 and while 2 can do the job easily enough on most days, that would be tested when people take sick days or vacation.  I offered up a few solutions to those issues during the discussion which actually led to some positive talk about changing up our team a bit and possibly some remote work opportunities.  So don’t be afraid to offer solutions no matter how crazy they may seem to you.

Know the answer to this question

There is one critical question that you need to have an answer for before your negotiation.  “What will you do if your sabbatical request is denied?”  Whether your answer is to proceed with your sabbatical plans anyway or to postpone until another time, you need to know the answer because there will be a chance that your proposal as you present it will be denied.

I felt very strongly about taking this sabbatical so my answer was that I would proceed regardless of the answer.  In fact, my boss asked me this very question and thankfully I had an answer to give her because I thought long and hard about this beforehand.  While my sabbatical was approved, I wasn’t granted the full time I wanted.  My decision now is whether to take the 4 months offered by the company or resign and go for the full year.  Right now I am waiting for some events at work to unfold before making my final decision.


Go in with confidence knowing exactly what it is you are asking for.  Don’t be afraid.  If you are timid and unsure your boss may not think you are serious or really know what you want.  Be clear and concise.

Your boss will probably have some concerns.  Make sure you anticipate what those concerns might be and have answers for them.  This is where I found the “Negotiating Your Sabbatical” handbook to be extremely valuable in that the authors offered up a whole list of possible concerns and various ways to respond to them.  Some of these concerns came up in my meeting and I was able to answer those with ease thanks to reading this handbook.

So we’ve talked about writing a sabbatical proposal and now presenting it.  Hopefully these tips and advice will get you out of the starting block and well on your way to sabbatical success.  So what are you waiting for?

If you have any questions about either writing or presenting a sabbatical proposal please feel free to contact me.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Andrew May 11, 2011 at 1:07 am

Hey Matt,

With all the emphasis on presenting a sabbatical proposal, do you not feel that it’s offering up another ‘hurdle’ in the decision to just take off and travel?

If you’ve (or anyone) has thought this through and made the decision, surely a yes/no decision from an employer wouldn’t weigh into the debate too heavily?

Either way, a year is a long time in the working world, approval or not I’m sure you’ll be fine.
Andrew recently posted..On the Eighth Day of Christmas – US Options Trading Part 2


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 11, 2011 at 1:37 am

Hi Andrew. I don’t really see it as another hurdle to overcome in order to just take off and travel. Sure there will be those that want to travel and have no desire to return to their old life and job and in that case all this sabbatical stuff is a moot point. But there are plenty of people that like what they do but also have certain life goals they would like to obtain and for them being able to negotiate a successful sabbatical is beneficial. I’m sure there are others out there that want to travel and try out some new things but also want the security of knowing they have a job should it all blow up in their face. Being able to negotiate a successful sabbatical affords them that sense of security knowing they have a job waiting for them. And if things happen to work out in their favor they can always say they’re not coming back.

I’ll be the first to admit that if I were young and single I’d be looking at this completely different. I would just quit and start the adventure already. But when you have a family to support your perspective on things changes a bit. I’m sure that you are correct in that we’ll be fine. A year is a long time to be able to develop various business ideas and make a go at it.

Appreciate the comment Andrew. It’s great to hear different thoughts and perspectives. Sometimes we hear things we hadn’t considered before. Cheers!


Andrew May 11, 2011 at 3:14 am

To be honest, I added my comment and THEN checked our your sabbatical crew and it put a whole different spin on your journey.

I think you’re up for an interesting ride for sure!
Andrew recently posted..On the Eighth Day of Christmas – US Options Trading Part 2


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 11, 2011 at 10:19 am

It will be interesting for sure! Kids puts a whole new spin on just about everything. But I’m excited to show them a bit of the world.


Gillian @OneGiantStep May 11, 2011 at 8:49 am

You’re right when you say it’s a negotiation. Demanding what you want will likely not get you very far. You have to be clear in what you want, have answers prepared and be confident that this is right for both yourself and the employer. I was able to negotiate a year’s leave of absence without too much trouble…but I was prepared for much more…and, ultimately, I was prepared to resign.

Jason also was granted sabbatical, for only 1/2 the time we planned on being away. He chose to accept it although we had no plans to return at the 6 month point. His plan was to contact them at 5 months and try to renegotiate for longer but before he could do that THEY contacted him and asked if he wanted to extend. You never know how it will work out – do not burn bridges!!

Good luck Matt!!!
Gillian @OneGiantStep recently posted..Coming Home- One Year Later


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 11, 2011 at 10:20 am

Thanks Gillian! I’m not sure that scenario will play out in my case. The company seemed pretty adamant that 4 months was the most that I would be granted but hey, you never know. We’ll see what transpires. Thanks so much for sharing your story and experience. Looking forward to seeign you guys in a few weeks at #WDS.


Matthew Bailey May 18, 2011 at 3:12 am

Great job Matt! Can’t wait to see what Bali brings you and hopefully our big event 🙂

It’s good to keep a foot in the door as long as your prepared to let it shut when you see something worth chasing 🙂
Matthew Bailey recently posted..How I Became a Movie Star and How You Can too


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 18, 2011 at 11:07 pm

Hey Matt! Thanks for your comment. I love what you say here. Keep a foot in the door BUT be prepared to let it close. I have no intention of burning any bridges. One never knows when they may have to cross back over.


Ryan May 18, 2011 at 10:25 am

Matt, you’re right in the comments above that having a family would change everything. I was able to up and leave because I am single without too many attachments, but in your case as husband and father, there are definitely more things to take into account.

I think one strong point about going to Indonesia is your family connections there, so it’s not like you are going to some random place on the earth on a whim (like some solo travelers perhaps have done)… But as a teaser I honestly hope you get addicted to the adventure and maybe stay abroad for even longer than a year! 🙂
Ryan recently posted..Pimsleur Spanish Program- The Definitive Review


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 18, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Agreed Ryan. Having family already in-country is a huge benefit and one not to be overlooked. We’re looking to stay as long as we feel it there. Maybe that will be 4-5 months maybe it will be 10 years. Who knows. But we’re definitely going to find out.


Liz April 29, 2013 at 4:17 am


A really good article. When I spoke to my company about taking a career break, my boss loved the idea but HR had a policy of no career break. Your point about no-one what you will do if your request is denied is really important. I resigned and it was the best thing I ever did. When I came back to the UK I started contracting and earn a lot more money than I did as a full time employee.
Liz recently posted..Things I Wish I’d known before I went Travelling at the Adventure Travel Show-Part 2


Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical May 11, 2013 at 10:59 am

That is awesome Liz! Our sabbatical was the best thing we ever did and we are already planning our next one. Going into the request you have to think each step through and know how you will respond to the questions that will most certainly be asked. Good for you for sticking with it and resigning to follow your dream. It most certainly has worked out for you. Cheers!


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