Sabbatical: Definition, Requesting One, Resources


A sabbatical is a form of rest. Based on the original Biblical concept and practice of Shmite, which was designed by agriculturalists as a way to take a long break from working the fields every seven years.

But what does a sabbatical mean in modern terms? What should you know about a sabbatical before you decide to request one? And how do you go about requesting a sabbatical from your manager or leadership team?

What is a “Sabbatical” or Sabbatical Leave

The original definition of a sabbatical is a one-year-long break from working the fields, originally referenced by Leviticus 25 by Jews in the Land of Israel. It describes they must take a year-long break from working the fields every seven years.

Today, this concept has evolved. Institutional employers of science, physics, and academics often offer sabbatical leave as a benefit to their employees. In these industries, the employee is compensated for their absence.

During this leave, the employee is encouraged to explore ways to advance themselves that will bring value back to the original role or position when they return.

How Long Does a Sabbatical Typically Last

A sabbatical leave can last up to one year. With the typical leave lasting 6-months. The shortest sabbatical lasts two-months. The length of time your sabbatical is approved for will depend on the personal development, volunteer work, travel, or other plans you may have for your leave.

As an example, Patagonia offers it’s workers two-months paid sabbatical when volunteering for an environmental company of their choice.

What’s Required to Receive a Sabbatical

Similar to the original Biblical concept of Shmite, the Jewish form of rest, a certain number of years with the company will be required to be considered for any type of sabbatical. For professors, scientists, and other academics, a sabbatical leave is usually taken every seven years of employment.

For those who are not in these fields, you should consider waiting to ask to receive a sabbatical until you’ve had at least two to three years of prior employment with the business.

Does a Sabbatical Mean Time Away From Work

Sabbaticals do not mean that you “won’t be working.” Depending on the arrangement that you’ve made with your employer and your plans for your sabbatical, you may still be contributing to your regular job activities and duties while on your sabbatical.

If your plans for your sabbatical contain volunteer work, personal development, or extended periods of travel; then you may have to determine the appropriate types of work with your manager.

The purpose of the sabbatical is to extend your passions that align with the company values. This is what makes the sabbatical a type of “handshake” between the employer and the employee.

Do You Get Paid During a Sabbatical

A majority of sabbaticals are paid. Though, some employers may decide to pay you a percentage of your salary during your sabbatical. Unpaid sabbaticals are common as well. Sabbaticals are usually not covered in employee handbooks and knowing your employer's policy on sabbaticals will require a request for information to your Human Resources team or your manager.

How to Request a Sabbatical

Before you decide to request a sabbatical, you need to have an idea of what you’d like to accomplish during this time. And how it will benefit the employer.

Sabbatical time needs to be structured toward company values, not simply travel that’s more associated with vacation time.

Before planning your sabbatical, you should sit down with your Human Resources department or manager and learn more about their sabbatical policies if they aren’t included in the employee handbook.

Once you’ve discovered what their policies are regarding sabbaticals you can start developing a plan that makes sense for both yourself and your employer.

The plan for your sabbatical should include personal development plans that align with company values or objectives. Volunteer work that will fuel your personal passions and align with company values. Time spent educating yourself further, like receiving a Masters Degree. Or deciding to become part of a traveling co-work group like Remote Year.

Once you have your plan with supportive reasoning for your request for a sabbatical, you should write a formal letter requesting your sabbatical time. It should include why you are requesting your sabbatical, how it will benefit the business, how much time you are requesting the sabbatical last, when the start date of your sabbatical would be, and what you believe fair compensation is for the time you’ll be able to commit to the business.

When To Avoid Requesting a Sabbatical

The most common misconception about sabbaticals is that they are a form of vacation time. And when you are feeling employee burnout, you should ask for a sabbatical. While this may true, you should not request a sabbatical when you feel tired.

Instead, you should use your vacation time to take rest in this fashion. Vacation time will give you a complete separation from your regular activities. If you used all of your vacation time and need more, consider asking your manager or Human Resources department on an extension of your vacation time.

Sabbatical Ideas

Below are a few ideas that you can use to formulate reasons for taking a sabbatical.


Choosing to volunteer can be a powerful way to align yourself to the company values. Let’s say you were working for Patagonia, then taking time off to volunteer in ocean cleanup would be an applicable request. It would benefit the business by helping you learn more about the impact clothing and plastics have on our oceans.


Choose to educate yourself further can be a simple yet powerful way to advance yourself and let the employer reap the rewards of your advancement. Seeking a Masters Degree is a great way for educators to request a sabbatical or request sabbatical time.

Co-working Programs

Traveling co-working programs like Remote Year can help to expose you to new surroundings, cultures, and help you network with similar-minded professionals. This can benefit your employer by giving exposure to a new network of professionals and expose you to shared experiences that spark your passion for business.

Traveling is a major request by those looking to receive sabbaticals. The only way to receive a traveling sabbatical is to align what you can learn in those new geographies to ways the business could expose new opportunities inside them. In that vein, you propose your travel plans as a form of research.

author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur,, SparkHire, and many more.


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