Taking a sabbatical is an excellent way to go on a career break without having to worry about looking for a new job when you return home.
Essentially a sabbatical is a system whereby companies allow their employees to take an extended period of leave above their usual holiday allowance - with the guarantee that their job will be held open for them when they return.
The usual length of a sabbatical is a year, but you could equally go for a shorter period of time.
In order to qualify for a sabbatical you generally need to have been working for your company for a specified number of years (which varies from company to company). Generally speaking a sabbatical is unpaid - but some companies do offer paid sabbaticals as well.
If a sabbatical is paid it's likely that the employer will expect the employee to use the sabbatical to develop their career in some way - by gaining relevant work experience abroad for example. Some companies also offer a paid sabbatical as long as the person taking the sabbatical does voluntary work abroad for a worthwhile cause or charity.
Qualifying for a Sabbatical
If you are planning a career break (and ideally would like to return to your present job) it's well worth checking to see if the company you work for does offer a sabbatical - as the fact that it's possible to take a sabbatical isn't always well publicised by some companies. The best people to speak to in order to find out if your company offers a sabbatical are the personnel department (who will also be able to let you know all of the qualifying criteria).
The concept of offering a sabbatical has become increasingly popular amongst companies and employers because of the fact that such a high percentage of people these days opt for a career break at some point. By allowing their staff to take a sabbatical for their career break companies benefit because they are not losing valuable employees in the long term. To provide a couple of examples of organisations that have embraced the sabbatical system- Civil servants are permitted to take two sabbaticals during the course of their career whilst Guardian Media permits its staff to take a month long sabbatical on full pay every four years.
If you discover your company doesn't offer a sabbatical scheme it may well be worth requesting one anyway - the worst thing they can do is say no!
When you are making your request it's important you stress the benefits of taking a sabbatical for both parties. If you are planning to learn some new skills or do some volunteer work with children or volunteer work with animals on your sabbatical this should also strengthen your case.