Taking a career break: what’s stopping you?


A growing number of working people, particularly those who have been in the same job or with the same employer for several years, are taking extended periods of leave (usually unpaid) to broaden their horizons and develop themselves on a personal and professional level. So what’s to stop you doing the same? Here we look at three common questions you might find niggling away at your high hopes of taking a well-earned sabbatical…

Worry #1: Will my boss let me go for such a long time?

While you have a right to request time off (if your employer has more than 250 staff), your boss doesn’t have to grant your request. But you can certainly make it easier for them to say ‘yes’.

Before meeting your manager, make sure you know when you want to take your break and how long for, and how your workload could be managed while you’re away. In short, do the practical thinking for them.

Even more important, be clear about why you want to take a career break. Your boss may be more open to the idea than you think. Okay, so some employers may still frown upon staff “going off on a jolly”, but attitudes are changing as more and more of them realise that rewarding the loyalty of good employees with time off is often a good way to retain them. In fact, many staff return with renewed enthusiasm for their work.

Explain to them that what you are doing will be productive. Having a clear and positive purpose to your time off is vital, whether you intend to travel, have an experience living abroad, volunteer, spend more time with your family, learn new skills or gain qualifications.  This focus will help you demonstrate to your employer what long-term benefits you will bring to the organisation when you return (whether that’s new language skills, a professional qualification, a more rounded world view, etc.).

This also takes care of another niggling worry…

Worry #2: Will a sabbatical harm my future career prospects?

Some people may be concerned that while they are not at work, they are losing ground on their colleagues (and competitors). That could be true, but it’s important to see your sabbatical as a once-in-a-career opportunity to develop in ways that wouldn’t be possible at work. If you are worried about missing out on training while you are away, this is something you could discuss with your manager before you go. You might arrange to check in periodically while you are off, to identify ways you can keep up with opportunities and training at work.

If you’re going for a new job, explaining a long gap in your employment history can be tricky (especially if you quit a job you hated only to sit around in your underpants watching daytime telly for six months!), but the same passion and purpose that sells your sabbatical to your current manager can translate into positive results and personal qualities on your CV when going for your next job: proof that you are a better person – and a better worker – as a result.

Worry # 3: Will I lose any contractual benefits?

That depends on your employer. The first thing to do is check your contract or staff handbook to see if your company offers a sabbatical policy. It should include information about:

  • eligibility for taking a sabbatical and the required notice period;
  • how to apply and how long is allowed; and
  • if, and how, this will affect your contract’s terms and conditions (e.g. eligibility for pay increases, etc.).

If there is no such policy, find out if any of your colleagues have taken a career break to see how they negotiated it, or approach HR directly.  And if there is no policy or precedent, but your boss agrees to keep your job open, make sure you have it in writing and understand any conditions that they might impose.

Around 90,000 working Brits take some sort of career break every year. Will you be joining them?

See our Career Breaks section for more information.

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