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UofDoboe
12-28-2015, 17:07
I've been tentatively planning an AT flip-flop thru hike attempt starting May 2016. I'm 33, a mechanical design engineer, and have been employed in a large corporation for 10 years. While my company does not have any formal sabbatical / leave of absence accommodations spelled out in our HR manual, I plan on requesting a 6 month sabbatical first thing in the new year.

My question: For those few who've successfully navigated this route (or for those in HR positions), any advice on how to argue / present / sell this request to management? The bulk of the advice for LoA out there focuses on advancing cultural or language skills thru world travel as a selling point to management - obviously there's not much opportunity for that in a domestic hike. At least one person has spelled out my fears of how management will view this: thru-hiking is irrelevant to the professional world. One can of course argue that soft skills (determination, planning, etc) are hallmarks of a thru-hiker, but can it be argued that embarking on a thru-hike DEVELOPS any skills?

Gambit McCrae
12-28-2015, 17:15
A low time in company activity might waiver your start point if you are flexible. Along with focusing more on self improvement on the lines of determination and self goals

Moosling
12-28-2015, 17:20
I wonder if you could argue some kind of therapy. I'm not a thru hiker but having spoken with many who have finished a thru hike and reading many peoples stories, you are going to get to know yourself on a whole new level. For me getting out into the woods its a mind opening event away from the hub bub of the world around us. Being an engineer I think this would help you maybe find new direction and meaning in the work that you do, give you time to think and not focus on the M-F 9-5 type of everyday stuff, it could help you get more creative.

I dunno sounds good to me though, I'd certainly put something like that in there.

Puddlefish
12-28-2015, 18:46
I wonder if you could argue some kind of therapy. I'm not a thru hiker but having spoken with many who have finished a thru hike and reading many peoples stories, you are going to get to know yourself on a whole new level. For me getting out into the woods its a mind opening event away from the hub bub of the world around us. Being an engineer I think this would help you maybe find new direction and meaning in the work that you do, give you time to think and not focus on the M-F 9-5 type of everyday stuff, it could help you get more creative.

I dunno sounds good to me though, I'd certainly put something like that in there.

I tried to take unpaid leave once for the care of a newborn child, prior to the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act. It didn't go well for me, but I put it in as a request, not a demand. I got some empathy from my boss and HR, my request was denied, but it didn't seem to hurt my career.

I wouldn't trust an employer with any kind of suggestion that I needed therapy for mental health concerns. That's going to send the typical HR brain into the directions of "Do we need to offer accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act" and "Ugh, no, what a giant pain in the butt this will be, " and "maybe we can find some way to fire this person for some other reason before it starts to cost the company money, and makes my job more difficult."

I think you can sell the cultural part to an extent, if they're really interested in that. People from all walks of life hike the AT, from many regions, from many countries. As an engineer, I can't imagine that planning and participating essentially a long vacation will develop any new skills in the planning/supply chain/budgeting areas.

The only positive idea I can think of is try to get your boss enthusiastic about backpacking, or make subtle suggestions on what a pain it is to spend months training a replacement? That last part might be a bit risky, as they might prefer to train the young kids with the small benefits.

Slo-go'en
12-28-2015, 18:48
I would think it depends. It depends on how much they value your work, how much they have invested in you, how difficult it would be to replace you and how much work you'd leave undone which would have to be unloaded to someone else to finish. If you have to leave in the middle of some big project, they will likely frown on that idea. The flip side is if they can get along without you, why would they want you back?

Other things to consider is what happens if you go home after a few weeks or a few months? After all, 70 to 80% of wannabe thru hikers don't make it. Obviously you don't plan on not finishing, but one must consider the fact that it might happen and have some idea what you'll do if it does.

johnnybgood
12-28-2015, 19:07
I would first and foremost be honest to your boss about your motives, no use trying to sugar coat it ----you want to hike the AT for six months ...am I right ? Nothing is more important than being on good terms with the employer that pays a salary to you . My question to you is how is the current job market for mechanical design engineers ? Have you saved money for this six month journey ? If the boss says no to your request can you continue to carry your health insurance as long as the premiums are meet every month ? If you do decide to cut loose from your current job do you have contacts that can get you back in the work force post hike pretty quickly ? If those bases are covered and you're comfortable giving up a well paying job to go hiking then do it.

4eyedbuzzard
12-28-2015, 19:30
Without being TOO negative . . .

Lots of good comments previous to mine.

I have worked briefly in HR, but have spent most of my career in maintenance and engineering, including some time in a design engineering firm, so I kind of know your world. Honestly, I really don't see any "selling point" in developing soft (or other) skills from a hike from an employer's perspective. I think people sometimes throw this out there but are really reaching, and more trying to justify their hike in their own mind. But I, and a few other members here who previously responded, don't buy it for one minute - and we're hikers. Be realistic and honest, a thru-hike is a long hiking vacation. There really aren't any skills exclusive to thru-hiking. The planning isn't complicated (it can be done by anyone), and determination is more an innate personality trait than an acquired skill. I just don't see a reasonably intelligent HR and/or an engineering manager buying into it.

Remember that the two most valued qualities in an employee are honesty and reliability. If you do request the LOA, just be as honest as possible - that it is life goal you have wanted to do for a very long time. I'd go more towards comparing it to someone wanting an LOA to climb Everest, or sail around the world, etc.

Some of my questions from an employers perspective become:
How does it affect company policy - If we approve this LOA, what does that lead to with other employees and other unusual requests? Can we do this and apply our standards fairly regarding other unusual requests?
What else/more might you ask for in the future? Wanderlust generally isn't a one time thing in my experience.
How does it affect current projects/operations? Do we have enough lead time to accommodate your request?
What logistics are required in terms of continuation of operations, temp replacements, etc.?
But my very last and least important concern will likely be, "Will you quit if we deny your request?" Because that's just the rules of the game. And I'm sure you understand this.

Honestly, ATC says 3 out of 4 prospective thru-hikers leave the trail before finishing. According to ATC, over half of NOBOs drop out by the halfway point. And most here on WB would probably tell you the drop out rate is much higher than the ATC's stats. A LOT of people are off the trail within the first month.

How many other long distance section hikes, say over 300 miles, have you completed?
If none, why not save up some vacation and do a long section hike on the AT or other trail (VT Long Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, or others) to make sure a thru-hike will be what you really want to do. Then maybe ask for that LOA a year or more in advance.

handlebar
12-28-2015, 19:31
One of the biggest employmee related expenses of every company is the cost of health benefits. Many companies self-insure, hiring Anthem or another large insurer to administer their plans, but paying the expenses themselves. Even if they don't self-insure, their arrangements with insurers will be experience rated. Therefore you could point out the health benefits of walking a half marathon every day for the better part of half a year.

A lot depends on your direct supervisor. How highly does he/she value your contribution to the team? How good is your relationship? Can they do without you for 6 months without unduly burdening the other team members? Is their someone who has recently retired from your team who you could bring up to speed that would be willing to return temporarily to take your place? If you can get your supervisor or manager on board that will improve your chances with HR and upper management. Getting your immediate management on board could be problematic. If they can do without you for 6 months, upper management may ask the uncomfortable question why can't they do without you altogether. You should look into the company's long term disability policies. What if you were injured in a serious accident and the recuperation was expected to take 5 to 6 months? (Unless you work for an exceptionally enlightened organization, you shouldn't expect your salary and benefits to be continued during a leave of absence as at least a portion would be under most company's long term disability policies.)

When someone resigns, there is a significant cost to replace him: headhunter fees, loss of productivity while the new person learns the ropes,etc. In fact it may well be less costly to the company to hold your place open for a period of time, than to hire and train a replacement.

Malto
12-28-2015, 19:53
I successfully applied and received a LOA from a large company that I worked. At the time I was a Group Leader of an Engineering team. My strategy was to prove that the Company could survive in my absence. I also kept the time to a minimum. That was one factor that led me to doing the PCT in under 100 days. My thought was that the Company sees many 3 month absences, it's call maternity or paternity leave. Somehow that is managed. I built my team in a way that empowered my folks to manage in my absence. This may sound risky that they would see I could be eliminated, but reality it wasn't a big deal. My actual unpaid leave was about a month and a half after vacation.

as far as motives. I wouldnt try justifying it, it is a vacation. If the Company wants to retain you they will at least consider it. If they don't then you likely would get much consideration.

couple other thoughts.
1) I have been accused of having "contagious enthusiasm." I was on very good terms with my direct manager and I got him caught up in the excitement over a year ahead of time.
2) I had a written plan on coverage.
3) I minimized the time and was flexible on timing.

good luck on your LOA.

egilbe
12-28-2015, 19:59
It seems to me that a mechanical design engineer with ten years experience would be hard to fund and difficult to replace. If worst comes to worst, give a notice, do your hike and re-apply when you are done. And ask for a raise, since you are so valuable.

Cheyou
12-28-2015, 20:06
My wife gave me one long ago !

thom

4eyedbuzzard
12-28-2015, 20:07
It seems to me that a mechanical design engineer with ten years experience would be hard to fund and difficult to replace. If worst comes to worst, give a notice, do your hike and re-apply when you are done. And ask for a raise, since you are so valuable.Really? Would you rehire that person? I would caution against that plan of action. One of the cardinal rules: NO ONE is that indispensable.

MuddyWaters
12-28-2015, 20:19
A business, is a business.
You are asking to take an unpaid extended vacation, because you value that more than other things.

There is zero reason for a business to want to accomodate your desire, unless you are someone they dont want to lose. It is an inconvenience and financial drain on them to allow it. It also sets precedent

Be prepared to quit. Be thankful if you dont have to.

CEOs and HR frequently see low level employees as liabilities and overhead, easily replaced, not assets.

egilbe
12-28-2015, 20:28
Design engineers are skilled employees. 10 years at one company? Its probably time to move on and find a better paying position regardless.

egilbe
12-28-2015, 20:35
Really? Would you rehire that person? I would caution against that plan of action. One of the cardinal rules: NO ONE is that indispensable.

Yeah, I would, and have been actively recruited after i left a company. Most employees are more valuable than they realize.

UofDoboe
12-28-2015, 21:03
Without being TOO negative . . .

Lots of good comments previous to mine.

I have worked briefly in HR, but have spent most of my career in maintenance and engineering, including some time in a design engineering firm, so I kind of know your world. Honestly, I really don't see any "selling point" in developing soft (or other) skills from a hike from an employer's perspective. I think people sometimes throw this out there but are really reaching, and more trying to justify their hike in their own mind. But I, and a few other members here who previously responded, don't buy it for one minute - and we're hikers. Be realistic and honest, a thru-hike is a long hiking vacation. There really aren't any skills exclusive to thru-hiking. The planning isn't complicated (it can be done by anyone), and determination is more an innate personality trait than an acquired skill. I just don't see a reasonably intelligent HR and/or an engineering manager buying into it.

Remember that the two most valued qualities in an employee are honesty and reliability. If you do request the LOA, just be as honest as possible - that it is life goal you have wanted to do for a very long time. I'd go more towards comparing it to someone wanting an LOA to climb Everest, or sail around the world, etc.

Some of my questions from an employers perspective become:
How does it affect company policy - If we approve this LOA, what does that lead to with other employees and other unusual requests? Can we do this and apply our standards fairly regarding other unusual requests?
What else/more might you ask for in the future? Wanderlust generally isn't a one time thing in my experience.
How does it affect current projects/operations? Do we have enough lead time to accommodate your request?
What logistics are required in terms of continuation of operations, temp replacements, etc.?
But my very last and least important concern will likely be, "Will you quit if we deny your request?" Because that's just the rules of the game. And I'm sure you understand this.

Honestly, ATC says 3 out of 4 prospective thru-hikers leave the trail before finishing. According to ATC, over half of NOBOs drop out by the halfway point. And most here on WB would probably tell you the drop out rate is much higher than the ATC's stats. A LOT of people are off the trail within the first month.

How many other long distance section hikes, say over 300 miles, have you completed?
If none, why not save up some vacation and do a long section hike on the AT or other trail (VT Long Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, or others) to make sure a thru-hike will be what you really want to do. Then maybe ask for that LOA a year or more in advance.

Thanks for the responses. My growing philosophy (and I think my manager has recognized this) is that I work to live, I don't live to work. I enjoy what I do, but the things I really care about in life happen outside of M-F 8-5.

I appreciate the frankness. The sentiments you're predicting are exactly what I'm expecting - there's no idealism in industry. And when it all boils down, this is an extended vacation to accomplish a bucket list life goal, not to help out work. It does sound like dressing it up as anything else isn't doing anyone a service.

I did do the Long Trail SOBO this year in 23 days and liked it very much. That was my "testing the waters" hike - if I'd hated it, I wouldn't be considering the big hike.

I do have a very comfortable financial cushion saved up to not only cover the hike but also an extended job search, should it come to that. As someone pointed out, after 10 years it's probably time I move on to a new job. My main reasoning with asking for a LOA is: What job am I more qualified for than my own? I haven't been on the job market since graduating college so that in itself is scary, but a job change wouldn't be the worst thing.

All that said, it still sounds like it couldn't hurt to at least ask. And based on that, decide whether to thru- or section-hike.

Woodturner
12-28-2015, 21:07
Not really the same thing I guess, but.....

In 1980 I was a laid off blue collar shipping employee. It was pretty much SOP that until an employee had four or five years of seniority they would be laid off most of the winter. That year, the first of July found those laid off in December still laid off. I made two trips to the plant to talk to the HR manager to find out if we were going to get called back but he was never available. The third trip, I talked instead to my supervisor. I told him that if we were not going to be called back anyway, I would like to take a little walk in VT, NH, and ME. He told me to go ahead, and that if they did call us back he would cover for me.
I was gone less than two weeks before they had a call back. Bill was good to his word, and while everyone was laid off again before I got home, when the next call back happened, I still had a job. I believe that this was possible for two reasons. First and foremost was an honest supervisor that took care of his people. Secondly, while I was there I tried to be an employee they didn't want to lose.
Sadly, two of the three jobs I had between 1995 and 2015 has led me to believe that supervisors who take care o their people have become more elusive than Bigfoot. In addition, I have to wonder if any company cares about its employees anymore beyond lip service.

You are still young. If you have a marketable skill, ask for a leave of absence with the thought in your mind that if they say no you can always get another job after your hike. You might fall in love with another part of the country and want to relocate anyway.

Violent Green
12-28-2015, 21:15
Design engineers are skilled employees. 10 years at one company? Its probably time to move on and find a better paying position regardless.

This. In most job markets you would likely get on with a new place at a higher wage than you currently have. Notice I said most, not all. Either way, I think you have an honest discussion with your supervisor and be well prepared on how to answer the questions they will have. They're first thought will be to how to say "no" in a nice way because there is no upside for them to say yes. You're only real leverage is to say that you will quit. I would test the job market in your area before you went that far.

Ryan

Mtsman
12-28-2015, 22:28
I had the opposite take with my job. I was looking to quit and my manager and his manager came to me and asked if I would consider taking an extended leave instead. I politely refused and left the door open just in case but my plan after this years thru is to go back to my home state and settle down there. The good thing is, I know if all hell breaks loose I could probably get my job back here.

I think a few things helped in my scenario though. I talked about my passion for over a year in advance. I also let my supervisors know of my intent almost a year before my leave (so two years total time given). Everyone that knows me knows I am going and exactly when. They have for several months.

The bad thing with this scenario was, If they don't want you to leave they make it hard to do. I was offered raises and promotions throughout the two years. I accepted the raises but they knew I was serious when I turned down the management job. I think they thought it was a ploy to get more money but in all reality I was just being honest and truthful of my intent. I seriously questioned my "stupidity" for about two weeks or so when i turned down the management position. It was a significant raise and I enjoy most of the workers here. That was the moment though that I knew I was going on the AT. I mean, of course I knew i was going on the AT but that was the defining moment in my mind.

Jake2c
12-29-2015, 01:45
This is tough. I don't know your particular job, but both my father and daughter are in engineering, one electrical and the other mechanical but moving into biomedical. The thing about those two fields is that if you miss much work, it is very hard to catch back up. My father took a year off for personal reasons and never got back to his previous level. He did that later in life and was ok with that, but he did often talk about how quickly he became less marketable. This may not apply to you, but just mentioned it. I spent a career in the military, you don't get 6 months off in jobs like that so I decided to wait until I retired. Maybe I missed it, but I take it your single and no one else either relies on you for income or can help as another source of income? The comments on being honest above are good advise. I have had lots of people work for me, it is hard to do without a key player even for a few weeks let alone 6 months. No one is indispensable but, if your valuable, they would rather not replace you. Maybe if you let them know that you can return within a week or two, if they really need you? A lot depends on how much you like your current job.

RockDoc
12-29-2015, 01:51
If you like your work I would just find out what is the longest leave of absence that is permissible, and hike within that limitation. You can have a great time on a two-week section hike, or maybe you can get a month. Then try to do it every year.
It's hard to find a job now. I know a lot of people who have been unemployed for many years. So watch it.
This is why the biggest numbers of thru hikers are young people between college and work, and retirees in their 50's or 60's. There are a few other scenerios (just got out of the military, fired, or divorced) that might work out, but not many.

Traveler
12-29-2015, 08:14
Without being TOO negative . . .

Lots of good comments previous to mine.

I have worked briefly in HR, but have spent most of my career in maintenance and engineering, including some time in a design engineering firm, so I kind of know your world. Honestly, I really don't see any "selling point" in developing soft (or other) skills from a hike from an employer's perspective. I think people sometimes throw this out there but are really reaching, and more trying to justify their hike in their own mind. But I, and a few other members here who previously responded, don't buy it for one minute - and we're hikers. Be realistic and honest, a thru-hike is a long hiking vacation. There really aren't any skills exclusive to thru-hiking. The planning isn't complicated (it can be done by anyone), and determination is more an innate personality trait than an acquired skill. I just don't see a reasonably intelligent HR and/or an engineering manager buying into it.

Remember that the two most valued qualities in an employee are honesty and reliability. If you do request the LOA, just be as honest as possible - that it is life goal you have wanted to do for a very long time. I'd go more towards comparing it to someone wanting an LOA to climb Everest, or sail around the world, etc.

Some of my questions from an employers perspective become:
How does it affect company policy - If we approve this LOA, what does that lead to with other employees and other unusual requests? Can we do this and apply our standards fairly regarding other unusual requests?
What else/more might you ask for in the future? Wanderlust generally isn't a one time thing in my experience.
How does it affect current projects/operations? Do we have enough lead time to accommodate your request?
What logistics are required in terms of continuation of operations, temp replacements, etc.?
But my very last and least important concern will likely be, "Will you quit if we deny your request?" Because that's just the rules of the game. And I'm sure you understand this.

Honestly, ATC says 3 out of 4 prospective thru-hikers leave the trail before finishing. According to ATC, over half of NOBOs drop out by the halfway point. And most here on WB would probably tell you the drop out rate is much higher than the ATC's stats. A LOT of people are off the trail within the first month.

How many other long distance section hikes, say over 300 miles, have you completed?
If none, why not save up some vacation and do a long section hike on the AT or other trail (VT Long Trail, Benton MacKaye Trail, or others) to make sure a thru-hike will be what you really want to do. Then maybe ask for that LOA a year or more in advance.

Probably one of the most succinct and best framed response to this issue I have read.

garlic08
12-29-2015, 09:03
My wife and I both took extended leaves of absence, up to six months, for trips like yours. Except they weren't exactly leaves of absence, because we believed that was not fair to our companies/fellow employees/clients. We resigned, officially, but they rehired us on our returns, several times in fact. In many cases, our offices/workstations were left undisturbed. Sometimes not. In all cases, we lost weeks of billable time at both ends closing and reopening our projects, time that did not show up on invoices/time sheets. We often had to plan many months in advance to be able to close out our involvement in projects. It wasn't easy or cheap, but it was worthwhile. Like you, we had saved a comfortable cushion.

On my return from my last LOA (to thru-hike the PCT), the boss promoted me. He said he saw a change in my demeanor and wanted me to step back from the trenches and be the person in charge. You can't count on that or pitch it to the current boss, but it does happen.

jimmyjam
12-29-2015, 09:10
When I quit my job last spring to hike the northern half of the trail I was lucky enough that they offered me a LOA. But in my absence they had to hire someone so when I came back they wanted me back but had no more employe money in the budget. So they ended up hiring as an independent consultant and I like this even better.I no longer have to request time off.

peakbagger
12-29-2015, 09:26
Staying with one company in an engineering position for 10 years is pretty atypical for a younger engineer. Large companies used to have career progression but that is pretty rare these days . The concept of company loyalty has sadly become a thing of the past in most companies. Unless you really are lucky and have access to defined benefit pension plan, most benefits are portable these days. In my career progression for engineering, it was pretty much expected that I would work out of school for 1 to 3 years for one employer and then move to another one to gain different experience. I worked in a chemical process industry so there was always encouragement to go into the production supervisory jobs but I stuck with the engineering track. If I was looking at a resume with a 10 year block at one employer for a younger engineer unless I saw progression in responsibility, I would call into question the quality of the candidate. The trap some folks get into is being the best at what they do for a really limited specialized industry. Companies love the dedication of an employee to his work but when new technology or offshoring occurs, their loyalty is driven by the bottom line. Its easy to put blinders on and not realize this is occurring and for some the only way they figure it out to is to take a break.

The other thing I looked for personally on my own is how transportable are my skills. The days of going to work for one industry and retiring in it are poor. I previously was in the paper industry, up into the mid nineties. It was a reasonable pay career which matched well with my interests as I could live in a rural location. The company I worked for handed out generous benefits and pay was excellent, we even had a defined benefit pension plan. I had headhunters calling frequently offering me great deals to go work for the competitors. Less than 5 years later the industry was collapsing, the company had been sold a couple of times, my small pension plan was owned by the government and I knew many folks who got laid off two or three times as other mills closed down. I stuck with engineering and took training and got my PE license so that I could switch to another industry. I am not the exception, I run into engineers all the time that thought they were going to work in same industry that had to swap into other fields when technology shifted.

Ultimately what HR looks at is how much is it going to cost to replace you. They voluntarily are not going to keep a slot open for you if there are skilled applicants beating the door down or other engineers waiting to move up a slot. Its a lot cheaper to move someone up and backfill the slot by bringing in new blood at the entry level. If on the other hand your work is specialized and replacement is difficult, they then need to make a value judgment, is there a short term way to cover the absence in hopes that you may return. The reality is that no matter what your current intentions are, its likely you wont return and HR has to plan for it. Even if you do return, its always going to be a black mark on your record as to them is means that you are not committed to the company. Next time there is potential promotion, your absence will be held against you and this may last for years.

The other observation is its important to build up a "war chest" you should have a couple years of living expenses stashed away prior to even initiating the effort. If you don't have the discipline to be routinely saving, it may be an indication that you may not have the discipline to hike the trail. I have been laid off due to my employer going bankrupt twice and there is no substitute to realizing that I am not stuck having to take the first job I see. The old recommendation is that your annual pay divided by 1000 is roughly the number of weeks that you may need to wait to find the right job. I expect that is very conservative these days but still good motivation to have money in the bank.

UofDoboe
12-29-2015, 09:36
It's hard to find a job now. I know a lot of people who have been unemployed for many years. So watch it.
This is why the biggest numbers of thru hikers are young people between college and work, and retirees in their 50's or 60's. There are a few other scenerios (just got out of the military, fired, or divorced) that might work out, but not many.

This is the conventional wisdom. For what it's worth, I have been researching this hike for the past few years and scouring the internet & trail itself for exceptions, hoping to find people my age who do this. I've been surprised by the number of mid-career aged thru hikers. They really are out there if you look for them. I would agree their numbers are blown out of the water by the early/mid 20's age bracket, but somehow a good number of mid 30's folks are pulling this off.

I don't know what to believe anymore about the job market. Obviously I've been secure & happy in my current position through the recession. The various flavors of talking heads would have you believe that the job market is wide open, or that it's actually horrible. The truth, I imagine, is somewhere in between. The professional friends I've asked have been fairly unanimous that a 6-month HIKE (not a 6-month sitting on the couch) needn't be a black mark on the resume.

And yes, I have no dependents, no mortgage, no debt. I have a significant other in my current area who will be unable to leave for at least another year, so that complicates things. But generally speaking I'm pretty unencumbered.

4eyedbuzzard
12-29-2015, 10:29
I tend to be pretty conservative when it comes to matters such as this. But given your overall situation, if I were you, I would go regardless of whether or not a LOA is offered. You're young, bright, educated, etc. You'll either return to your company or find other employment. But if you don't go, you will likely be thinking about not having done it, and probably regretting that decision for a long time.

MuddyWaters
12-29-2015, 10:39
You will never regret doing things you want to.
Life isnt about jobs or money
Sadly, most think it is

colorado_rob
12-29-2015, 11:25
I took a LOA some years ago (I decided to build a house) and it was zero problem with my company (Lockheed, and I was un injunear too). Nor was it any of HR's business nor did they even ask what I was doing. A decent HR department wouldn't ask. Why would they care? I did tell my bosses, and they were cool with it. It was so many years ago, I cannot remember the benefits logistics, but I might have had to give up my health insurance or pay for it at the time, or maybe I was just covered by my wife's.

Being a Mechanical Injunear, you can get a job anywhere anytime, if your company doesn't like you taking a LOA.

I don't think doing a thru hike makes you a better employee in the future, probably the opposite... (you'll want to do other thrus later if you make it!).

Akela
12-30-2015, 10:10
These are all great opinions. You can see both sides of this issue......after all it is your life and you'll have to make some choices and take some risks.
If you go for it, I'd do some research if your own company supports a particular cause. Could you hike for it? Many hikers take this approach usually for personal reasons, causes that feel close to them. It might be a "selling point" to keep your relationship with them during your hike

UofDoboe
04-16-2016, 10:08
Follow up post:

I did end up submitting a request for a 6mo leave of absence or sabbatical to my manager Jan 30th. I immediately got an email back from him, saying he was supportive and not all that surprised that I was asking (I have a long history of increasingly ambitious backpacking trips). He acknowledged that nothing like this had been done at our (very large, international) company before, but he would run it up the pipeline and see what was possible.

The HR director had no issues with it in theory, though she did remark that "if we can lose him for six months, are we sure we need him at all"? She also commented that the company should start expecting more requests like this as more millenials enter the workforce, an observation which rubbed me a bit the wrong way since at 33 I've never really considered myself a millenial and worry at being lumped into that stereotype (there is a huge cultural gap between myself and the undeniably-millenails at work). But in any event, she was willing to sign off on it.

A director and a senior director also needed to sign off on the trip. The lower level director has a no-nonsense, non-idealist personality and would be the most difficult gating approval. He did hesitantly approve, however. My manager commented that he recently had a daughter turn 23 and perhaps this is continuing to bring perspective to his life. His main worry apparently is that I won't return - that I'll find some other job during this stint, so there's some level of trust on my shoulders with this. The senior manager (who I've never met) was reportedly very enthusiastic about the idea.

So ultimately, yesterday (3.5 months after I put in the first request and 3 weeks before my intended departure date) I got official word to go ahead. If they had said no, I would not have quit and I think they knew that. Their summary of the arrangement is that this is a one-off situation that they're accommodating due to my 10+ year history with the company and my consistent track record as a solid, valued employee, and that this is to pursue what I've demonstrated to be a significant life goal. I do credit the success of this to my manager who was willing to be supportive and go to bat for me with the corporate hierarchy. This would have gotten nowhere if he wasn't sympathetic.

So it is possible, even in a mega-corporation. Naturally I sprained my ankle badly in January and I'm now going through physical therapy to get back up and running. But they feel the prognosis looks good and I should be set to begin my flip flop from Harper's Ferry around Mother's Day.

Hikingjim
04-16-2016, 10:38
If you are valuable and give a good amount of notice, then hopefully they can just hire out for a 6 month contract or whatever is needed. I'm sure they do that often for other reasons.

And I also know some people whose jobs were basically gone when they got back from a few months of cancer treatment...

So it's a bit of a roll of the dice sometimes.

You can spin it however you want to management, but it is an annoyance for the company, so just be up front, figure out their stance, and decide based on that

rafe
04-16-2016, 10:57
It's a good situation to be in, UofDoboe. For most folks, even professionals, job security isn't what it used to be. Heck, a 10-year stint in my field (software engineering) is almost unheard of, and I've had recruiters suggest it was almost irresponsible. And they may have been right!

I was employee #9 at a startup in 2000. It grew to >150 in 2004 or so. Laid me off in 2011. Laid off most of the rest since then. Currently down to fifteen employees. One or two of my pals still there, most have found new gigs, though not always a step-up. The older ones struggle the hardest.

swisscross
04-16-2016, 17:12
It seems to me that a mechanical design engineer with ten years experience would be hard to fund and difficult to replace. If worst comes to worst, give a notice, do your hike and re-apply when you are done. And ask for a raise, since you are so valuable.

I am in the industry and they, engineers with experience, are a dime a dozen.
I once asked my employer for a 2 week leave tacked onto a two week vacation to cycle across the states and his comment was, " you can come back if we NEED you".
Don't let your job stop you from your dreams but don't expect a job when you return either.

Miel
04-16-2016, 18:46
These are all great opinions. You can see both sides of this issue......after all it is your life and you'll have to make some choices and take some risks.
If you go for it, I'd do some research if your own company supports a particular cause. Could you hike for it? Many hikers take this approach usually for personal reasons, causes that feel close to them. It might be a "selling point" to keep your relationship with them during your hike

This is a great idea. I know someone who is funding her hike by hooking up with a non-profit public relations group. She will give talks (gratis) for them upon her return.

Miel
04-16-2016, 18:48
Congrats to the OP!

Downunda
04-16-2016, 19:00
I went through the same thing as you in applying for extended leave for my AT hike... You need to be honest and upfront and say it is sonething you've wanted to do for a long time, forget the stuff about cultural and language skills etc that's just bunkum and will be viewed as such.

In my case HR said to my Manager that if you can do without him for six minths you don't need him, which is a very logical argument. However in my case my manager understood mmy dream (he had always wanted to sail around the world and never did) and backed me all the way. If you have a good relationship with your manager the the key is to get him aside for a coffee and talk though your dream with him. If he backs you you have a good shot.

I'd made the decision that if my leave of absence wasn't approved I was going to resign and go anyway. Fortunately it didn't come to that.

Downunda
04-16-2016, 19:26
I went through the same thing as you in applying for extended leave for my AT hike... You need to be honest and upfront and say it is sonething you've wanted to do for a long time, forget the stuff about cultural and language skills etc that's just bunkum and will be viewed as such.

In my case HR said to my Manager that if you can do without him for six minths you don't need him, which is a very logical argument. However in my case my manager understood mmy dream (he had always wanted to sail around the world and never did) and backed me all the way. If you have a good relationship with your manager the the key is to get him aside for a coffee and talk though your dream with him. If he backs you you have a good shot.

I'd made the decision that if my leave of absence wasn't approved I was going to resign and go anyway. Fortunately it didn't come to that.

Ooops, I just went through all of the thread and see that you got your leave approved. That's fantastic and a great relief I'm sure. In my case I requested six months leave which was approved. I was employed as a Project Manager in the IT sector.

I expect that this thread will be very usefull to others facing the same dilemma.

PennyPincher
04-18-2016, 19:59
Follow up post:

I did end up submitting a request for a 6mo leave of absence or sabbatical to my manager Jan 30th. I immediately got an email back from him, saying he was supportive and not all that surprised that I was asking (I have a long history of increasingly ambitious backpacking trips). He acknowledged that nothing like this had been done at our (very large, international) company before, but he would run it up the pipeline and see what was possible.

The HR director had no issues with it in theory, though she did remark that "if we can lose him for six months, are we sure we need him at all"? She also commented that the company should start expecting more requests like this as more millenials enter the workforce, an observation which rubbed me a bit the wrong way since at 33 I've never really considered myself a millenial and worry at being lumped into that stereotype (there is a huge cultural gap between myself and the undeniably-millenails at work). But in any event, she was willing to sign off on it.

A director and a senior director also needed to sign off on the trip. The lower level director has a no-nonsense, non-idealist personality and would be the most difficult gating approval. He did hesitantly approve, however. My manager commented that he recently had a daughter turn 23 and perhaps this is continuing to bring perspective to his life. His main worry apparently is that I won't return - that I'll find some other job during this stint, so there's some level of trust on my shoulders with this. The senior manager (who I've never met) was reportedly very enthusiastic about the idea.

So ultimately, yesterday (3.5 months after I put in the first request and 3 weeks before my intended departure date) I got official word to go ahead. If they had said no, I would not have quit and I think they knew that. Their summary of the arrangement is that this is a one-off situation that they're accommodating due to my 10+ year history with the company and my consistent track record as a solid, valued employee, and that this is to pursue what I've demonstrated to be a significant life goal. I do credit the success of this to my manager who was willing to be supportive and go to bat for me with the corporate hierarchy. This would have gotten nowhere if he wasn't sympathetic.

So it is possible, even in a mega-corporation. Naturally I sprained my ankle badly in January and I'm now going through physical therapy to get back up and running. But they feel the prognosis looks good and I should be set to begin my flip flop from Harper's Ferry around Mother's Day.

Congrats! I hope you keep a trail journal and write well. I am living vicariously through these trail journals. We never took the time to hike the AT when we were younger and even though my husband is supportive of me going now, I won't do it without him. I won't to share every moment with him.

Berserker
04-19-2016, 12:30
My post isn't really adding any value to this thread, but I just had to say that this was one of the best most thorough discussions on this subject matter that I've seen on WB. Usually these types of posts degrade to chaff or go nowhere. This one however was excellent in that the OP received some very good input from multiple points of view, and then he came back on here and followed up with the results. Thank you to everyone for this wonderful thread.