How to Write a Sabbatical Proposal

by Matt | 1 Year Sabbatical on April 29, 2011

How to Write a Sabbatical Proposal

As you may or may not know I presented my sabbatical proposal to my employer a few weeks ago.  When I decided to take my family on a 1 Year Sabbatical I knew that convincing my employer that this sabbatical was good for me would be easy.  But convincing them that taking a year off would be beneficial to them and add value to the company would be an uphill battle.  I knew that my sabbatical proposal needed to be flawless and convincing. 

Knowing nothing about how to write a sabbatical proposal and that I would probably only have one shot at this I relied heavily on Google and the yourSabbatical.com e-book “Negotiating Your Sabbatical”.

In this post I’m going to break down how I put together my proposal.  In a future post I’ll talk about how I went about presenting my proposal and the conversation that ensued between my boss and I.

Section 1 – Introduction

The first part of my sabbatical proposal was an introduction where I laid out in a high level, general overview what it was I was requesting.  I didn’t get too bogged down in details here. In preparation for this section I did a lot of research on the myriad types of sabbaticals as well as some deep thinking about what it was I wanted to do during my sabbatical; what my goals were. 

The key to success here is to be totally fluent in the sabbatical language so that when you start to field questions from your employer you will know how to answer them.  This is where Negotiating Your Sabbatical and Google played a large role.

What do you want in your Introduction?  You want to provide a brief summary of what you are requesting as well as brief reasons why you think it will be of benefit not only to you but to the company as a whole.  Consider this your 60 second elevator speech.

Section 2 – Proposed Dates

In this section I wrote down the exact date I planned to depart and the date I planned to return to the office.  Be very specific here.  For example I said I wanted to take my sabbatical from September 23, 2011 to September 24, 2012 returning to the office on the 24th.

In my case not only did I want to spend the summer in Oregon but I also knew that we had some bigger projects at work that would be wrapped up early fall.  Therefore I chose a departure date of September.  Don’t underestimate the importance of timing.  Some things to think about are not only what dates work best for you but also what dates work best for your employer.

Also, make sure you give plenty of advance notice of your intent.  Don’t plan on departing for a 1 year sabbatical with only a month notice.  That’s a sure fire way to get your sabbatical denied.  So plan your sabbatical with a timeframe that provides the least burden on your employer.

Section 3 – Sabbatical Overview

This is the meat and potatoes section where you lay out all the details of your amazing plan.  Unlike the Introduction, in this section you want to be specific about your intent and the benefits to you personally.

In my case those benefits were allowing my kids to experience world travel, Indonesian culture and to learn more about the other half of their cultural heritage.  I wrote about wanting to learn the Indonesian language (I’m embarrassed to admit to 10 years of marriage and still struggling to become fluent).  I wrote about how in order to accomplish this my wife and I felt we needed more than just a 2 week or even 2 month vacation.

I also wrote about my role in the company and how I envisioned my future there.  I emphasized my desire to continue to be a team player and increase my role in the organization.

This is your opportunity to go big or go home.  Create a compelling case that they can’t refuse.  But be careful to avoid becoming too emotional or come across as being owed something.  This isn’t the time or place to sneak in any job dissatisfaction.  Rather than focusing on the emotional plea instead focus on your sabbatical goals.

I chose to focus on my desire to play a larger role in my department’s future expansion into another state and how my unique skill set would be of benefit there.  Come to find out later my boss had put my name at the top of the list of people to do exactly that.

Section 4 – Sabbatical Goals

OK, so in your sabbatical overview section you talked in more detail about your plans and goals for your sabbatical.  Now you need to clarify your personal goals.  Don’t worry about anticipated benefits here as we’ll get to those in another section.  Here, just get more detailed about your own personal goals and how achieving these goals will make you a more complete and better person and how those personal goals tie in with your career goals.  This is where you let your passion out.

Using the template provided in the “Negotiating Your Sabbatical” handbook I wrote this section and the following section as a series of bulleted lists.  The workbook has some great exercises to get you thinking about your goals and really spell them out in a way that puts some shine on them.

Section 5 – Anticipated Benefits

This is the section where you show the value of your sabbatical, not only from a personal perspective but from your employer’s perspective as well.  I broke this section out into ‘Benefits for myself’ and ‘Benefits to our organization/team’ and used a bulleted list format.

I didn’t have any problems spelling out the benefits to myself but honestly, I found writing the section on benefits to the company one of the more difficult sections to write and I think that was mainly because in the back of my mind I was constantly thinking; “Why would they even consider this?”  “What benefit do they receive by allowing me to take a 1 year sabbatical?”  This is where you answer those questions and spell it out.

At the end of each bulleted list I wrote a few short paragraphs that tied up the benefits a bit more.  If there is something in your list that you think needs a bit more clarification then just write about it below the list.  This was such a tough section for me that I used a lot of the ideas in the ‘Negotiating Your Sabbatical’ workbook.  Not only do they provide a list of potential benefits but they provide a list of action words that you can use as well to better word your descriptions.

Section 6 – Preliminary Work Coverage Plan

The plain truth is that while you are gone someone is going to need to cover your job duties.  Whether that means your co-workers picking up the additional duties or your company hiring a temporary staff worker, this is where you spell out your ideas on how your work can be covered during your absence.

I couldn’t help but think in the back of my mind; “What if they realize after a year that they really can get by without me?”  I imagine this is a fear that many people who desire to take a sabbatical think about. 

Keep this in mind though, your employer has already invested a lot of time and money into training you for the job that you do.  They don’t want to have to go through all that again with someone who may or may not work out.  If you sell this proposal right, your employer will learn that employees who return from a sabbatical are more productive and stick around longer.

OK, so back to this section.  Include your ideas on how your work can be covered while you are away.  In my case our team was already dealing with a proposed move which would have required at least one team member to move to a different state.  Naturally I volunteered for that as I thought it would play out well with my sabbatical proposal.

Section 7 – My Commitment

In this section I spoke of my commitment to the job and the company and my belief that this sabbatical would only strengthen my value as an employee.  I wrote about knowing that approving this sabbatical would change our team dynamics but that I believed it would be for the better and that our team would grow stronger and be better able to meet the demands of the future.

This is your final chance to show the value and stress your commitment.  This is the icing on the cake.

Section 8 – Final Comments

I broke this section out separately but you could actually include it with the ‘My Commitment’ section if you wanted to.  This is where you wrap it all up.  In this section I wanted to make it clear that this proposal was open for discussion and that I was flexible on timing.  Make sure your final comments are positive and that you want this to be a beneficial experience for all parties.

Finally!

So there you have it!  That’s my sabbatical proposal in a nutshell.  Obviously there is a lot to think about and consider so you really want to be sure that you put forward the best sabbatical proposal that you can.  You may only get one shot at this so make it the best shot possible.  This is why I highly recommend picking up the ‘Negotiating Your Sabbatical’ workbook.  I don’t think I would have been able to put together the sabbatical proposal I did without this book.  If you are serious about taking a sabbatical you can’t go wrong with this workbook which goes into far greater detail than this post.

While my sabbatical proposal for a 1 year sabbatical was not accepted, I was offered 4 months, so I don’t see it as a failure.  It opened the door to discussion with my employer and they are now more aware of the value of a sabbatical.  And whether I choose to take the 4 months offered or quit and go for the whole year, I am still on good terms with them and can return should future openings come up.

And really that is the key here.  Be honest and up front with what you want.  Don’t burn any bridges.  Do what you feel you have to do but don’t leave on bad terms.

Congratulations if you made it this far.  I hope that this extra-long post was beneficial for you in getting you started with your own sabbatical proposal.  If after reading this you have questions please feel free to either ask them in the comments or email me directly.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Kurt Brown May 17, 2012 at 8:07 am

Hi Matt

I live in LaCrosse, WI.

Did you ever go on your Sabbatical? I just read your article on “How to Write a Sabbatical Proposal” April 29th, 2011.

Or did you quit?
I am thinking of asking for a 3-4 month sabbatical to through hike the Appalachian Trail.

The obstacles seem huge, finances and work, but the soul seems ready.

Thanks for sharing your experiences.

Sincerely,
Kurt Brown

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