While this was once considered career suicide, sabbaticals are now accepted and also encouraged by some employers. We will show how you can take one and still get ahead.
When Winston Chen informed his friends that he had quit his job at a software company to move abroad to a small island near Norway with his family for a year, most people replied: “I wish I had the courage to do that.”
Few people that dream of taking time off mid-career actually do it. But the amount of people taking a long sabbatical later in life is increasing, experts say. In part due to companies getting more open to the idea and the increased rate at which people are changing jobs. And if you play your cards well, you can get back with a better job than when you left.
Time for a change
For Chen, who had been with the same company for more than a decade, it was time for a change. His original plan was to look for a new job, but the idea of taking a break got him thinking about a sabbatical. In the beginning, he mentions, he was worried that the period away from the industry might hurt his career. “It is the main reason that stops people from doing this, and I was the same way,” he said. “But you need to create the urgency to live the life you want.”
After he quit, Chen looked for another job — until a friend told him that a small island in Arctic Norway needed a teacher. Chen’s wife, born in Norway, wanted to go back to work after staying at home with the children for almost five years. “She made the call and got the job,” said Chen. “So we decided that was it.”
Paul Payne is a professional in the recruiting field who has seen an increased amount of clients choosing a gap through their careers. “It’s a very interesting idea, especially when firms are looking to hire and keep millennial talent who seem to get itchy feet faster than their predecessors,” he said. “While it’s not for every company, more are now offering periods off as a retention tool by giving their employees paid leave to be able to volunteer, travel or just to take time off to recharge their batteries.”
“When you need to explain a year off on your CV does not need to be a bad thing,” said Payne. “Taking the time off can show a company that you want to develop your skill set and gain new experiences. It can mean that you’ll come back from your time off with a new perspective, which will aid your job performance.” Out of 500 people interviewed no one regretted to take a break (between one month to two years)”, said Jaye Smith. “Everyone reported that their careers were boosted as they were upgraded in their work ethic and attitudes.”
Try new things
“If you’re considering taking a mid-career break that enhances your views and skills, go abroad, where you could try to find informal paid work or volunteering. It could give you a fresh perspective on things when you return”, said Payne. “The experience could also increase your basic competencies. “
Always a risk
“Not all employers are open to the idea of a gap year – but there are ways to make it more interesting to them,” says Holly Bull, president of a gap year consultancy Center. “Express what you have in mind to your employer and find out how much time away they might agree to if it is clear you are committed to returning to the job,” she said. “Enroll the employer by mentioning the benefits of taking this kind of time off; most people return with more to offer in their jobs.” Bull advises being very clear about what is most important, before going to your employer with your intent and wishes. “See what happens,” she said. “I think one has to consider to let go of a job if an employer is not open to the gap option.”
However, don’t be surprised if there is resistance to the idea. “A lot of employers are not very keen to see someone leave for a year because most businesses need continuity and consistency,” said Smith. Come up with a plan that shows how they could cover you during your absence.
Time to move on to the next job
The time off may prove the stepping stone to a new job. “I think it’s very important to people that their work is fulfilling. If it’s not, it may scare someone to make a change, but it’s a lot better to risk it to find something that is a lot better,” said Bull. “Gap options are a way to test the waters without making a complete commitment to a new job.” For some people just taking a few weeks to learn if something suits them or not can be enough.
You don’t have to think of being away as a way to start your own business or to move to a new career. The point is: What would you do in the case, for a period of time, you don’t have to worry about making money?