Career breaks: An unexpected opportunity
I’m sure we all have days where 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. They are mountainous, uphill, downhill, complete with U-Turns, detours and, sometimes, delays.
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.
And career breaks are one of these unexpected opportunities. Taking time off work can offer a much-needed space to reset your priorities, focus on your physical and mental wellbeing, and review your professional goals.
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 return to the workplace. But, after much consideration and thousands of moments deciding, the career break took centre stage and she resigned.
The career break dilemma
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 that once we take sabbatical leave from work, we won’t be able to maintain our career credibility when returning to the workforce.
Studies show that 70% of women feel fear taking a career break. One, because we have invested so long in a career, and two, we are unsure how to return to a comparable role after being absent.
And the career break opportunity
My advice to those considering taking a career break...do it!
Understandably, the thought of taking a career break is daunting. We barely feel we’ve mastered one realm of life. And sabbatical leave adds a whole other new variable into the mix. But nothing is gained in the comfort zone!
Taking a career break is a fantastic way to consolidate what you actually want to do. Having the time and space to focus on yourself means your confidence can reach unprecedented levels.
By making a conscious decision to take a mental break from work, you may find you come out of the experience with a whole new, multifaceted identity. Not to mention more energy and a clear mental vision of where you want to take your career “next steps”.
Negotiating a sabbatical leave
When it comes to the sabbatical leave negotiation table, there are a few things you’ll want to run by with your current manager (assuming you even want to return to the same workplace):
● Give enough notice
● Approach the subject diplomatically. Demanding a career break will only lessen your chances of sabbatical success
● Give clear and concise reasons. Know the benefits of your taking time off for the company
● Be confident and prepared
● Always ensure that the terms and conditions of your sabbatical leave are outlined clearly
Maintaining credibility post-sabbatical leave
When it comes to returning to the workplace, go with the knowledge that you have gained so much while you have been on sabbatical leave.
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.
And when it comes to reintegrating professionally, aka “The Interview”, know your reason from taking a career break and highlight how you have benefited e.g:
● Emotional Intelligence strengths
● You have been able to apply the skills you have learned in the workplace
● Taken strategic risks
● Intercultural communication skills
If you want to reduce the “returning to work” anxiety a little more, it might also be a good idea to start reconnecting the links prior to. So that the transition is smoother!
Recognising sabbatical leave as an employer
Career breaks don’t end with the person taking a break. So, my advice to employers: 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
● A refreshed and reinvigorated employee force
Next, you’ll want to find out how to apply the benefits of an employee’s career break:
● What skills have they developed?
● Find out the reasons why
● How can they market and apply their new skills?
It’s important for employers to encourage and recognise the company benefits of sabbatical leave. Because the benefits are for the company as a whole. This includes a reduction in staff turnover, improvements in employee engagement and focus, and a bonus opportunity of applying new insights and skills for organisational success.
Final thoughts on career breaks
Whatever the reason for your career break, make sure you are doing it for the right reasons, and don’t be 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.