Advice for broaching a career break with employers?
April 27, 2008 4:48 PM   Subscribe

I am interested in taking an extended (6 months-ish) period off work, unpaid, with the intention of resuming my current job after that time, and am looking for advice in successfully broaching the subject with my employer, a smallish firm in Canada. Have you done this? Has an employee of yours done this? Any tips?

I am strongly considering taking an extended (6-9 month) period off work.

I am not doing this to travel the world, have a kid, or volunteer for a worthy cause, although it's likely I'll both do some volunteering and travel a bit. I'm just burned out and tired from a decade of working long hours in understaffed environments under a lot of pressure. Having not had more than three weeks in a row off since I left college a decade ago, I would like to dedicate some extended time to some fitness, family, home, neighbourhood etc goals that there never seem to be enough hours in the day for. I have also only been at this employer for three years. It seems from some googling and discussions with confidants that this combination makes the proposition a bit unusual, flaky-seeming and suspicious.

If I have to, I will just quit my job, but there are many good things about this position (education opportunities, six figure salary, benefits, bonus, colleagues, location, etc) and I would like to come back refreshed and enjoy them. With the raises, responsibilities, and glowing reviews I have been given, my bosses have given every indication that they like me an awful lot. I am a good performer in a key position that they rely on and expect to have around for a long time. I am also an immigrant from the same country as the owners, so we have a great connection. But I need a proper break. So I'd rather not burn bridges, I'd like to work this out with my bosses.

Wow that's all a long lead in to asking, Any advice/experience in getting an employer to agree to this sort of career break request? Or is this a lost cause?

Possibly relevant stuff: I am an office-based professional in Canada; my employer has about 50 employees and is relatively young itself; I've worked here for three years; and I have several months expenses socked away for this purpose, but will be unlikely to need it as my spouse also works.

Anonymous because coworkers very occasionally read metafilter; I can be found at if you like.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Of course it's not a lost cause.

I've done it myself, for a year. I wanted six months but understandably it's harder to get a contract person for shorter time periods. I just said I needed a break and they understood. (They also knew my medical history, though, which had some bearing on it.)

Depending on your workplace there may be policies about leave-of-absence requests. In my case we were unionized and the collective agreement had language to the effect that any reasonable request can't be refused. If they like you they'll probably be understanding though.
posted by loiseau at 5:16 PM on April 27, 2008

Asking for a sabbatical
posted by netbros at 5:20 PM on April 27, 2008

The big risk for your employer is that they'll leave the position open and then you'll decide not to come back. You need to do what it takes to assure them that your long term career choice is to work for them. They won't just wait around for 6 months to see what you decide, nor would you in their shoes.

If you do assure them of your return, a 6 month absence can be worked around in lots of ways. In business time, 6 months flies by. They might even take advantage of your absence to save costs. But if your position is really a key one, it's likelier not. The more convincing you can make your desire to return, the more likely it is that they'll bend in some way to make sure your job is still there for you.

I took 9 months once, and then came back to the same company, but there was no prior arrangement. It seems that there is a small number of commonly understood reasons to do this, as you hint at: travel, volunteering, school, family, etc. It might help for you to present one of these. Being burned out on working is probably the worst thing you can say to them.

It sounds like you have a great job for people you like and trust. Just talk to them. You never know what might happen. Chances are that if you need to leave, you'll just need to take wing and hope for the best. But if you really like them and they really like you, tell them you intend to return and then stay in touch with them every few weeks during your sabbatical. Round about month 4, get serious about lining something up with them. With any luck at all, you should be able to make something work.

When I did this, I came back to a much different and much better position in the end. It was a bigger step up than I could possibly have made if I'd stayed, which is ironic, but sometimes the way of it.
posted by scarabic at 5:53 PM on April 27, 2008

I tried this once and was told 'no' as it would 'set a precedent' within the company I worked for. I quit three months later. Best decision I've ever made.
posted by zenpop at 6:06 PM on April 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

I did this. I took a year out to go and live in Canada with my then girlfriend (now Mrs unSane). I was working at a TV company as a researcher/assistant producer and it was really as simple as me telling them I wanted to go and them saying there'd be a job for me when I came back if I wanted it. Subsequently I also did a 4-day week and then a 3-day week as I transitioned into writing full-time.
posted by unSane at 7:13 PM on April 27, 2008

I did this and it was awesome. I just said that I was burned out and I needed a six month break, and my employers agreed. I don't know if they would have had a bigger problem with it if I were less essential (or more essential!) to the company. They were a little worried about it setting a precedent but only one person has done it since (and only for a month or two). It's totally worth asking.
posted by dfan at 7:19 PM on April 27, 2008

I'm currently on 8 months leave with my employer, but in my instance I moved overseas to take a short-term contract (and travel). I had been there for just under 3 years when I started.

Some employers are more open to extended leave than others - mine has allowed several people to do this. If you can come up with a reason why it will benefit them, it's more likely to get approved. eg, I will gain new skills that I will bring back to my employer.

Agree with others to stay in touch, I write to various people in my organisation every couple of weeks, letting them know what I'm up to, asking about ongoing projects back home, etc.

Best of luck!
posted by wingless_angel at 1:11 AM on April 28, 2008

a friend of mine did this recently. she took two months off. before she spoke to anyone at her company, she wrote up a proposal detailing what she planned to do while on leave, and how what she was doing would benefit the company, etc. she just wanted some time off to finish her novel and recoup, but she also said she'd do X that would benefit her company before she came back. so it didn't come off as a whiney "i want time off to sleep" kidna thing.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 6:00 AM on April 28, 2008

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