Quitting is not the only option if you want to take a year off from work

The first decision you are faced with when planning a career break (and probably the scariest one) is how to leave your job. The anxiety of leaving the security of a regular paycheck is almost enough to kill your dream altogether. 
But if you’ve read my earlier post about how a sabbatical can revive your health, save your marriage, make you wealthier, and help you find your best life, then you know that taking a career break is a no-regrets move. 
If you want to take a year off from work (or any meaningful length of time), you actually have 3 options:
a) ask for a leave of absence from your employer
b) get laid off from your job, or
c) quit your job.
In this post, I’ll go through each option and show you how to leave your job without derailing your future. I’ll also give you a template for telling your “sabbatical story” in a way that will move your manager to support you.
Take A Year Off From Work Without Leaving Your Job Jeep Safari
On our year off around the world

Do you need a break or a change?

Only you can answer the question of whether you want to stay with your employer or not. I imagine that if you are dreaming about taking a year off from work, you are burned out, stressed out, and not all that satisfied with your job.
However, I think of a recent conversation I had with Ryan, a former coworker of mine. After months of burn-out from the job, Ryan raised his hand to get laid off in an upcoming re-org. Initially, he was happy about receiving a generous severance payout. But he later told me that he wished he would have stayed and asked for some time off instead. “There’s a difference from needing a break and needing a change,” he said, “and I just needed a break.”
Taking a leave of absence is your safest financial choice. Obviously, there is the security of coming home to a job. But more than that, you may very well be able to keep critical benefits like health and disability insurance. You should also be able to maintain your tenure, which can be important for how much PTO you receive and any future severance calculations. If you receive stock compensation, you may also be able to maintain your vesting.

How I got my employer to let me take a year off from work 

But, you may ask, I want to take a year off from work to sail to Mexico with my family. What kind of employer is going to let me do that?
You’d be surprised. This is exactly what I did when I asked my employer for a year off.
Take A Year Off From Work Without Leaving Your Job Mountain Nepal Himalayas Annapurna
My spouse and I had a dream to find human rights activists around the world and tell their stories. My employer offered a one-month sabbatical program, but the problem was that I needed to take a year off from work to complete our project.
As the next step, I started to involve my colleagues and my manager (and my manager’s manager) in my dream. I built a website for the project and showed anyone interested. I invited my colleagues to fundraising events. I even made some t-shirt and mugs that I brought to work.
Looking back at it now, it doesn’t feel like a big deal. But at the time, I felt very vulnerable bringing my personal dreams to the workplace. What if my colleagues thought that my dreams were stupid? What if my manager took this as a lack of commitment to my job and gave me a poor review?
Yes, there’s always a risk when you make yourself vulnerable, but the rewards are far greater.
Mike Lewis, the author of When to Jump, left his prestigious job at a VC firm to pursue his passion for the sport of squash. He talks about sharing his authentic story with his colleagues:

Building up to my jump, I prioritized spending real time with anyone who had invested in me at Bain, inviting them to join me for coffee breaks, happy hours, squash gamesI wanted each person to have my most authentic story: why I was jumping, what I was hoping to get from it, the fears I was facing and why I was choosing to face themThe purpose of talking to my colleagues was not to gain permission—by then, I had committed to making the jump—but to share ideas and listen to feedback and create ways to stay in touch.

Mike Lewis
Fortunately, in my case, my manager and my VP were incredibly supportive about my passion project and could see that I was very serious about it. So when I asked if I could stay with the company and take a year off from work instead of quitting, they said yes.

Get what you want by being vulnerable

Now, I don’t advise that you make up some bleeding heart cause just to drum up support for taking a year off from work. But you can turn any sabbatical plan into a dream that others can empathize with (and vicariously dream along with you).
So you want to sail to Mexico with your family? Talk about how this was your dad’s dream, and share your hopes for what you want your kids to experience from it. You want to take time off because your daughter is suddenly having trouble at school and needs your attention? Get vulnerable and tell your manager, because most likely she’ll empathize. Are you burned out and need a break? Have a frank conversation about your work stress levels and health.
Be honest, authentic, and vulnerable with your manager. Then ask for their help to make your dreams happen. People want to help. When they see you baring your soul, they will want to support you.

A template for negotiating an extended leave of absence

1. Get your colleagues and your manager bought into your dream. If you are pursuing a passion project, put together a “product” that easily conveys what you’re trying to do and how serious you are about it. This could be a website, a video, a powerpoint, or even a heartfelt email articulating your story. 
Pulling the heartstrings of your manager (and ideally, her manager as well) to empathize with your dream is the key to getting their support. I can’t emphasize how important this part is. If you can articulate yourself well, you will gain not only their support but also their respect.
2. Familiarize yourself with the leave of absence policy at your work. Before you ask, figure out (as anonymously as possible) what the policy is. Have other coworkers successfully gotten leaves of absences (outside of mandated leaves like FMLA)? What’s the maximum leave allowed?
3. Make sure you provide ample time for notice and consider timing your conversation strategically if a bonus or review is upcoming. You need to give your manager time to plan for your absence. In my case, I made my request three months ahead of when I wanted to leave. I also waited until after I received my annual review before making my request. There is a real risk that your review could be impacted if your employer knows you want to leave your job (even if temporarily).
4. Propose a plan for how your work will be covered while you’re out. You need to give your manager a solution so she doesn’t feel like her life will be made much harder by your absence. Can other team members cover your work? Are you on a project that has a natural end? Would you need to hire a temporary cover, and if so, do you have any potential candidates?
5. Articulate that you value this job and have every intention to return. Yes, you might be burned out at the moment. But if you do sincerely want a break instead of separation, then you must value certain things about the job. So talk about those things with every ounce of conviction that you have. Explain that this is about taking a break so that you can pursue a lifelong dream. Set a definite end date for when you plan to be back at work.
I’ve put together this template to help you plan a conversation with your manager:


What to do if a leave of absence isn’t in the cards

What if your employer won’t grant you a leave, or if what you really want is a change and not a break? Before you walk into your boss’ office and turn in your notice, consider trying to get a layoff instead. There are several financial advantages, including severance, unemployment benefits, and healthcare coverage.
Your best shot at this is through a manager that you trust. Again, getting them bought into your dream is critical. You don’t want to come off as a money-grabber who wants a severance check for quitting. You have a bigger and nobler “why.” Tell your story, and then tell your manager that you’d like to volunteer to take redundancy. In the best case scenario, there is an upcoming re-org, and you’re doing her a favor by volunteering yourself. But even if there isn’t one, you may be able to set yourself up to be made redundant by grooming your replacement and working yourself out of a job. This is a win-win for all involved.

If the only option is to resign, ask for your cake first

The last option is to quit your job. The goal here is to keep bridges well connected and pave the way for a potential return. Do this even if you think you’ll never want to, because keeping options open is never a bad thing! If you are well-valued at work, you may find that you suddenly become greatly desired the moment you say you’re leavingDon’t overlook this opportunity. It’s your chance to ask for the world. You may be able to have your cake and eat it too.
At some point in my career, I was exhausted with the daily grind and thought I needed another break. A huge part of my dissatisfaction had to do with my commute, which sucked 2-3 hours out of my life every day. When I went in to quit, my manager asked me if there was anything she could do to get me to stay. I asked to work remotely, 80% of the time. She said yes. Of course, I had considered this before but had been too afraid to ask.
But when you are ready to quit, you have nothing to lose. So if there’s a change you can make that would take away the thorn in your flesh that is making you want to leave in the first place, ask for it!

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The gain outweighs the pain of leaving

While leaving your job may be the scariest part of taking a sabbatical, what you’ll gain from pursuing your dream will far outweigh any pain from the initial departure. You will never regret taking a year off from work to do something you care about.
If you get your manager bought into your dream and propose a clear plan for how she will manage while you’re out, you stand a good chance of getting your sabbatical approvedIf that doesn’t work, explore whether there’s an opportunity to maneuver your own layoffIf your only option is to resign, then consider first if there’s anything you could ask for that could make the job sustainable.
In my next post, I will show you how to create a personal financial statement and give you the excel template that we used to get our family to financial freedom. Before deciding how much you can spend on your career break, you need to get clear about your longer-term financial goals and how you stand against them todayGoing through this exercise will give you tremendous confidence to leave your job knowing that your financial health is under control.

Hi, I’m Jen. I’m a breadwinner mom raising my modern family in the most expensive city in the US. This year, I’m leaving my corporate career for a life of greater intention.

I write about how to achieve financial freedom for your family so that you can live your best life while providing for theirs.

Read my story here.

Live Your Freedom Now.

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