Managing career breaks and maintaining credibility

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Written by Helen Turnbull, Conference Producer at Liquid Learning.

Building the bridge back into work

I’m sure we all have days we wish our careers and lives were linear; a smooth, straight road without bend or pothole? I have those days too, but let’s face it for the majority, our career paths are quite the opposite: mountainous, uphill, downhill, U-Turns, detours. Yes, we may set out with an initial direction but, realistically, it is more than likely we will all face a career with T-Junctions and Roundabouts, full of surprises and secrets, but full of opportunity.

I met an inspirational woman recently who told me about her career as a finance expert. She began in her early twenties, and threw herself in with optimism: wide-eyed, hard-working and keen for promotion, and found herself managing her first team in her mid-twenties. But, after a successful ten years, and a rigorous climb up a sturdy ladder, this woman found herself exhausted, and in desperate need of a career break.

She told me of the difficult choice she had to make; to prioritise her health or her position, worrying she may not be able to return to the same or similar job title when ready to get back into the workplace. But, after much consideration and thousands of moments deciding, the career break took centre stage and she resigned.

There are an infinite amount of reasons career breaks might be needed: to travel, to study, to take care of children or loved ones, to pursue an interest? But, it seems we’re afraid we won’t be able to maintain our career credibility when returning to the workplace.

Studies show that 70% of women feel anxious about taking an extended time off work because we have invested so long in a career, we are unsure how to return to a comparable role after being absent.

So, my advice to you:

As an employee:

Reintegrating professionally is daunting, we barely feel we’ve mastered one realm of life when it’s time to add a challenging new variable to the mix. Taking a career break could be a fantastic way to consolidate what you actually want to do. Taking the time to focus on yourself means your confidence can reach unprecedented levels. With the right support, and making the conscious decision to normalise your experience, you may find you now have a new, multifaceted identity.

And, when it comes to returning to the workplace, go with the knowledge that you have gained so much while you have been away. Know that your decisions to take time off speak volumes: It says you are courageous, that you are able to take risks, make difficult decisions, prioritise and have a very firm understanding of yourself and your needs as an employee.

Negotiating a career break with your current manager:

  • Give enough notice
  • Approach the subject correctly. Demanding a career break will only lessen your chances of success
  • Give clear and concise reasons. Know the benefits of your absence to the company
  • Be confident and prepared
  • Always ensure that the terms and conditions are outlined clearly

Returning to work:

The interview: Know your reason and know what you have learned:

  • Emotional Intelligence strengths
  • You have been able to apply the skills you have learned in the workplace
  • Taken strategic risks
  • Intercultural communication skills

Before you come back to work, it might be a good idea to start reconnecting the links, so the transition is smoother!

As an employer: Recognise the potential benefits of career breaks to employees:

  • You can retain current and experienced employees
  • Newfound qualifications and experiences
  • Employees are able to assess and take risks
  • Demonstrates high levels of self-motivation
  • Refreshed and reinvigorated

What you need to find out:

  • What skills have they developed?
  • Find out the reasons why
  • How can they market and apply their new skills?

Whatever the reason for your career break, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and don’t afraid of maintaining your career credibility when returning to work.

If you are deciding whether to take time away or if you’re an employer who’s considering such an initiative, remember that career breaks create and foster productive and valued employees, who then in turn power a successful enterprise.

Related article:  [Juggling Parenting as a Busy Professional]

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