A career break is something that many people dream of. But it takes huge courage to stop thinking and take the plunge. The Great Resignation, however, has prompted record numbers of us to rethink the contours of our professional lives.
Here, bosses, founders and entrepreneurs from some of the world’s most dynamic companies explain why taking time out for an adventure can be the best decision of all.
“Explore life without regret”
Lou Ali is Head of Campaigns at digital marketing agency Yard. All employees, or “Yardies”, have the option to take an unpaid career break for an agreed duration, with the ability to return to their job afterwards.
For me, it’s necessary that we give everyone the opportunity to explore the world while feeling safe in the knowledge that their job will be safe. I love that Yard offers career breaks for our Edinburgh and Cardiff-based teams. It means everyone has the opportunity to gain new knowledge of life, expand their skills outside the workplace, spend time with their loved ones, take up a passion project or even re-evaluate what they want in life.
Life isn’t about work, life is for living, and I think we’re lucky to have that as a core company understanding. I would hate to think that one of my colleagues was sitting on the idea of taking a career break, but was too scared to do it. I want everyone to explore their lives without regret – work is always going to be here.
Before the pandemic, many of us were guilty of working away without a second thought. Now, we’re appreciating the present. That’s why people are no longer waiting before they take time out.
"Revive your drive"
We encourage people to have career breaks. Time away from the workplace gives you the opportunity to reflect and reset: you can switch off and be present in whatever you’ve chosen to do. It’s a good way to create a better work-life balance: something that’s hard to do when you’re working full-time.
Companies should be supporting sabbaticals, as it can build a sense of belonging for team members. Most people who’ve taken a career break with us have returned with more drive and motivation to keep working towards their goals. Above all, a career break provides the perspective for you to decide whether you’re on the right path and assess if your job is the right fit for you.
“Make lifelong memories”
Erin McWilliams is Benefits Director at software company Epic, which offers employees four weeks paid time off every five years. To date, Epic staff have taken 7,200 sabbatical trips to more than 154 countries.
The benefits from both the individual and company perspective are many. Our employees tend to return rested, re-engaged and excited not only to share their experience, but to dive back into their work passions and projects. They also return excited at the prospect of where they are going to travel next, and looking forward to the future.
Giving employees a chance to learn about different cultures is an opportunity for them to gain perspectives that they may not otherwise see. Overall, we’ve found that sabbaticals lead to a happier, healthier employee base. These are once in a lifetime experiences that carry lifelong memories.
"Follow your sense of adventure"
Paul Lewis is Chief Customer Officer at job search engine Adzuna, a company that encourages its employees to be adventurous and entrepreneurial. Often, this takes the shape of a career break for travel or to develop new skills.
The importance of career breaks is a matter close to our hearts as a business. Back in 2015, just as Adzuna was in the middle of international expansion, our co-founder Andrew was diagnosed with stage-four cancer – aged 33.
He was forced to step back from the company, eventually leading to two full years away, during which time he received a stem-cell transplant and slowly recovered. Beyond this, one of our long-standing colleagues recently left to hone his yoga practice in Nepal and Tibet, and I myself took a four-month career break after the birth of my son. It helped give me space to build a strong bond with my boy – something I treasure to this day.
We’ve all felt that feeling of being on autopilot at work. A career break helps you reflect and work out where you want to go next. It can also be a really important tool for preventing burnout and supporting good mental health.
"Find time to reflect and recharge"
Dawn Flannigan lives in Massachusetts, and is Senior Director of Human Resources at Vista and parent company Cimpress. Their sabbatical programme The Break gives employees up to four weeks’ paid leave for every five years of service.
We developed The Break to give employees some well-deserved time off. It provides the opportunity to step away, reflect and recharge; which benefits wellbeing both for employees, and the overall team. Some people take their dream trip, while others use the time to prioritise their personal life. Each break is full of memories and relaxation.
Team members either return from The Break re-energised and recommitted to the organisation, or – during the reflection period – they may decide they want to follow a different career path and do something different. If that’s the case, they can have transparent discussions with their manager about next steps. Either is a good outcome.
The other benefit of The Break is that team members covering for their colleagues have the ability to develop, by sitting in on meetings and getting involved in projects they would not otherwise have access to.
"Live cheaply and freely"
Winston Chen left his job as a CTO in a Boston start up to join his family on a year-long career break in Arctic Norway. The adventure prompted him to come up with the idea for Voice Dream, the company behind reading and writing apps.
I took a career break in 2011, but it wasn’t an easy decision. I’d never just left a job with nothing lined up and I worried whether I’d find a new role on the other side. Relocating to the remote island of Rodoy, my family and I spent our time hiking and fishing in the fjords, admiring the Northern Lights and beach camping under the Midnight Sun. It was glorious. But the most enjoyable part is that I alone decided what to do.
We lived for a year without a dishwasher, which would’ve been unthinkable before. You discover you don’t actually need those things in life to be happy. You get rid of a lot of fear that is entirely based on routine and a concern for the unknown.
My advice is to live a different life than your “normal” life. Live cheaply and freely. Don’t go for the same lifestyle. Try to set up an experience that changes you for the better. That way, you’ll return with a more balanced perspective and be more willing to take risks.
"Focus on what matters most"
The aim of our award-winning Time Out scheme is to ensure that our people are able to balance their lives outside work with a successful and fulfilling career.
People use Time Out for myriad reasons: Deloitte CMO, Laoise Flanagan, took a Time Out last summer to reconnect with her extended family in France and Belfast, while Deloitte partner, Sarah Mills, took a Time Out in 2016 to go on an epic road trip around the UK with her mother.
Unplugging from work can improve productivity, focus and mental health – and lower stress levels. More than 1,000 of our people (58% women) have benefited from our Time Out scheme since it was introduced. Many have used it more than once.
“Take the break you need”
Tom Keya is an executive at law firm Ruthberg LLC. He is also the founder of Soulh, a new corporate wellbeing company. Having found himself at a crossroads in life, Tom took a career break. He now offers his employees 12-month sabbaticals, so they can do the same.
I took a career break last year following a breakdown, caused by mixed anxiety and depression disorder. I found I had no option but to live life day to day during that time. I eventually moved countries from London to Dubai, as I needed the sun. A mixture of outdoor activities, therapy and sports started to get my creativity flowing, which resulted in me working on my new business.
Businesses would benefit massively from having a sabbatical policy. Certainly, I encourage it in my Dubai team. If you have good talent, all you need is loyalty. You achieve that with being kind to your staff. There is nothing better than bringing people back after they’ve taken a break to return stronger and more creative.