When Thinking Sabbatical, Put Your Company First

Jul 17, 2018

by Eric Butterman ASME.org

Not everyone waits for retirement to try to have an extended time away from their job. Enter the sabbatical. It’s a word that may seem to some to be almost a myth, like the unicorn, but engineers have taken them. Still, you want to be smart about how you approach your company about a sabbatical, considering it from their end.

“Engineering is very team-centric and project-centric and you can’t usually just remove somebody from it without challenges,” says Anthony Fasano, president of the training company Engineering Management Institute.

Fasano warns that it may not be an easy transition for the company. You’ll need to have a good explanation or plan for your absence. “The engineer should probably make it clear what they are intending on doing and what benefits might come back to the company from their time away,” he says.

Think of ways of lending credibility to your sabbatical, such as spending a year as a university professor or traveling around the globe, all as a way to engage with innovative engineers and learn new transferable skills.

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But there are at least a couple of other factors that could improve your chances of getting a positive response to the request.

Volunteering could be a great way to show your company how you will be giving back during your time off.

“Charity work can definitely have a better chance with certain companies,” says Fasano, author of the book Engineer Your Own Success. “Many want to give back, and it also can help them to be seen in a better light. If you want to, say, volunteer with Engineers Without Borders, maybe you pitch them on also sending pictures every couple of weeks to share on the company’s social media or give updates to be shared as highlights on how the work is helping.”

Another factor that could aid your case is how long you’ve been with the company.

 “There is a thought many people have that the younger worker should be putting in their time,” he says. “On the other hand, if you’ve been there 30 years then they may see it as something you maybe deserve or could possibly think it could refresh you if you’ve been at it non-stop for decades.”

The timing of the request is also important. As far as requesting a sabbatical, Fasano says the earlier it’s done the better because engineering companies often have intricate driven projects where they need months in advance if they can even consider a big change.

First and foremost, always put yourself in your company’s shoes when requesting a sabbatical. If you’re traveling, it’s always wise to add some engineering-related stops along the way.

“If you’re in Europe for three to six months, it’s not hard to visit some modern transportation projects or something else which may relate to your company,” Fasano says. “They have to think about their company and, honestly, you can’t blame them.”

Eric Butterman is an independent writer.

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They have to think about their company and, honestly, you can’t blame them.Anthony Fasano, Engineering Management Institute

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