Why taking a career break is good for you

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Anna Brech
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Career breaks are good for you on all manner of levels, from learning new skills to assessing your life with different eyes.

We've consulted a series of career experts to figure out why you should take a sabbatical, how to wrangle time off with your work and what you can do to make a career break valuable. Have a look at their tips and turn that Indonesian beach dream into a reality...

Why to take a sabbatical

There are any number of reasons to take a sabbatical but top of the list must surely be gaining fresh perspective on your life by replacing your usual routine with new and uncharted experiences. These in turn will give you a different slant on what motivates and inspires you.

"Taking a sabbatical or adult gap year can provide people with many benefits including time to clear your head and the opportunity to step back and reassess in a way that could improve your quality of life," says professional coach and trainer Lisa Merrick-Lawless , founder and director of Headspace. "The idea can seem very appealing to a lot of people, especially if they are going through a rough patch, life is just feeling a bit tough or sometimes when you have been zigging for years and it just feels like to time to zag."

So how to begin? "Start by asking yourself why you are considering this?" says Merrick-Lawless. "What would the benefits be for you, what is it that you are hoping to get from it? This could be any number of reasons from taking a rest to learning something new, going on an adventure, discovering more meaning in your life or simply trying out a new direction. It is important to start by understanding your purpose."

How to negotiate time off with your boss

Asking your work for extended time off, especially in these tough times, is no mean feat and should be delicately handled.

Karen Meager, managing director of Bristol-based consultancy Monkey Puzzle Training has the following tips on negotiating leave:

- Check if your company has a policy for sabbaticals: And also listen out on the grapevine as to whether they are generally viewed as a positive thing or not - sadly some companies are still stuck in the dark ages on these things. Very often you have to have been in employment for a period of time and different businesses have limitations on the time you can take off, depending on type of job you have.

- When asking for a sabbatical: It is best not to say something like, "I'm knackered and need a break, you've worked me into the ground and I need some time off," as this is unlikely to be received well. Instead do your homework, present a plan for how you aim to use it and, if appropriate what benefits the company might see as a result of your sabbatical.

- One thing to watch for when considering a sabbatical is: Where are you in your career? If your career in on the rise at the moment remember that even though companies will hold your job open for you, if you are gone for say a year, you will become a distant memory quickly and so in return will have to work to build up your contacts and networks again. Be clear you are OK with this before heading off - remember six months or a year off is a long time in businesses.

"The key to asking for something you really want is to be clear, specific and focused on the outcome," says Merrick-Lawless. "Approach it in a positive way and be clear about the advantages to both you and your employer. Think about the objections they may have and how you would overcome them e.g. helping them to recruit someone or restructure the team to cover your leave or helping them to understand that you will come back refocused and invigorated and ready to take your career to the next level.

"Or pitch it on a more practical level with a new skill that could help the company e.g. imagine three months in Brazil where you get to take an adventure whilst also learning the language and on your return being able to open up business opportunities for your employer in this growing market."

What to do with your career break

The world is your oyster! But perhaps better to use your time creatively rather getting to grips with that loft conversion or catching up on daytime TV. Volunteering is the obvious choice and there are thousands of placements around the world to choose from.

Leonie Martin, marketing manager at sustainable development charity Raleigh International, says: "We really value the contribution of volunteers on career breaks and sabbaticals. They bring a wide variety of skills and their range and breadth of experience is a real asset to Raleigh International.

"The diverse nature of our volunteer manager team is one reason that it is so effective; people from all different backgrounds and stages of life working together with one shared goal, to drive sustainable development."

Raleigh International's initiatives cover a massive area of interest and participants could find themselves doing anything from project managing a water sanitation drive in Tanzania to overseeing volunteers who are tending to vulnerable environment in Borneo. Tellingly, 66% of the charity's volunteer managers last year were women on a career break or sabbatical.

But volunteering isn't the only option to look at on a career break, especially if you want to earn money as you go. Rachel Morgan-Trimmer, founder of The Career Break Site, suggests these three areas as well:

1. TEFL: Teaching English as a Foreign Language is a great option for those who want to earn while they travel but aren't eligible for a working holiday visa. You can do a course in the UK or abroad, and that qualifies you to teach in schools or business centres around the world.

2. Courses: For the sporty, a ski, snowboard or watersports instructor course can give you the qualifications you need to work across the globe. Sailing or yachtmaster courses can also qualify you for work. For those who want to learn for fun, language courses are popular. You can also take very short courses as part of a travel or volunteering package, like cookery, dance or kung fu.

3. Travel: There are loads of travel choices on a career break, whether it's backpacking on a round-the-world trip or going on an adventure travel tour which takes you off the beaten track. Lots of career breakers have a project on their travels, such as starting a blog, or developing their photography skills.

"The number one reason for people taking a career break is that they want to do something different. They want to get out there, see the world, and hopefully make a positive impact on it – by volunteering, teaching, or simply by travelling responsibly," says Morgan-Trimmer. "You won't be the same person when you come back. You'll find you can face challenges more easily, solve problems more creatively, communicate more effectively and above all, you'll have more confidence."

Words: Anna Brech, Photos: Rex Features


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Anna Brech

Anna Brech is a freelance journalist and former editor for Her six-year stint on the site saw her develop a vociferous appetite for live Analytics, feminist opinion and good-quality gin in roughly equal measure. She enjoys writing across all areas of women’s lifestyle content but has a soft spot for books and escapist travel content.