Planning an extended career break

If you’ve ever had aspirations of taking a round-the-world trip, time off to start your own personal project, or even extended parental leave, taking a career break is a decision that you (obviously) can’t take lightly. Maybe you have to take time out because of a life event – whether it’s to have children, look after an ill or elderly relative, or maybe your partner has to take a job abroad for six months – how do you plan everything so you can survive the loss of income, and can you be sure that you will be able to return to work?

Timing – when will it start and how long will it be?

If you have the luxury of being able to choose when your break will happen – make it concrete – ‘one of these days’ can’t be an option as it probably never will happen. If your break is to fit around a life event (perhaps you planned to walk the Great Wall of China when you hit 40) you’ll have a clear idea of how long you have to go and psychologically it’ll spur you on. Obviously the precise starting date might change – you’ll probably change your mind a few dozen times before settling, but give yourself a fairly solid idea.

Taking the first steps

Your workplace culture and the relationship you have with your boss will have a big impact on how this takes place, but ideally you should communicate your plans as early as possible. This way they can arrange your successor, or make arrangements so your job is waiting for you when you return. Your company may even have schemes in place for education or extended parental leave that you can take advantage of – so do your homework!

Sam Fergusson, one of our contract consultants, is planning a career break at the end of this year, where he will be going home to New Zealand with his fiancé (a fellow Kiwi who also lives in Scotland) to get married and spend time with their friends and family.

“I always knew I would go home for the wedding, as both our families are there. I mentioned this in passing to our MD around a year and a half ago and that I might make the move a permanent one, but since developing my role here at Head, we discussed the possibility of me coming back. Because a few friends of ours are also getting married we’re now going over for four months and Head are keeping my job open for me when I return.”

Sort your money out

Unless you plan on being self-sufficient on your sabbatical, will you have any income coming in while you’re out of work? If not, then you’ll need to save. Do you have any side income that will help, like a rental property or pension? Depending on the nature of your break you might even be able to work part-time. This might sound like missing the point, but we’re talking freelancing, dog-walking, maybe even picking up the odd bar job if you’re on tour – something to help keep you afloat.

“The biggest challenge for me is to plan the budget,” Sam continues, “four months with no income is going to be tough and a big part of my salary is going towards surviving with no cash. We’ll probably end up relying on friends and family whilst back home, but we should be able to manage okay.”

If you have debt hanging over your head it’s probably best you sort this out before you take our break. You certainly don’t want to end up adding to it, and if you won’t be able to clear any of your debt then you should look into options that will save you money in the long-term, like switching credit cards, or getting a new loan/mortgage deal.

Getting back into the game

Sam’s main worry about coming back to work is being out of touch with his network of clients and candidates – “coming back will be difficult because my role is all about building and holding relationships with people – being away for four months it’ll feel a bit like starting all over again!”

If you’re able to return to your job after your break, then it will undoubtedly make things easier, but you should try to make sure that you are prepared for getting back into things – the longer the break, the harder it’ll probably be – you’ll likely want to catch up with your employer a few times before your return, which will give you the chance to talk about any changes to your job and make sure everyone is comfortable with how you’ll fit into the team after an extended break.

And finally…

Enjoy your time away!

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