Many people sit at their desk day dreaming about jumping on a plane and disappearing for a few months but very few actually make this a reality. Many people are worried to even approach their employers with the question, as they worry it makes them look like they are not committed to their jobs. Some career breakers want to quit their job for flexibility, but others want the time off but don't want to jeopardise their career and job.
I think people who are reading this, will usually have worked hard for years and have landed their dream job where they are happy and settled into their career and don't want to lose it all for 6 months backpacking around the world. Or, you want to take the time off but don't want the uncertainty when you get home of being poor and having no job to come back to. I get it! If you have read any of my other posts, you will know that I took the leap and quit, because I didn't know how long I wanted to travel for and didn't want a set date I had to be home for. However, this was the hardest decision to make, as I petrified that I wouldn't find a job when I got home and I would be living off baked beans for the rest of my life (I don't even like baked beans!).
So, if you have made your mind up that you want a career break, while keeping your job, here is my advice as to how to do it:
See if your employers have a sabbatical scheme
Check your company's policies to see if there is mention of a sabbatical scheme. Now, don't get too excited, it is the larger corporate companies that usually offer these, as larger companies will appreciate that employees want flexible working conditions and will have the resources in place. If they do have one, there will usually be a certain criteria that you will have to meet. Many of the sabbatical schemes I have seen will state that you had to be working with them for a set period of time (usually 2 years) and they will have a set a maximum duration that you can go for (usually 1-2 years max). Many will state that you can't work for competitors or even undertake paid work at all, so this is something to take into consideration.
Some large companies may have partnerships with volunteering programs which you can utilise, particularly if your company is concerned about Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). In rare cases they may even continue to pay a small percent of your salary while you are away to help with expenses.
However, as great as all of this sounds, it depends if they will agree to terms that not only works for your employer, but works with your plans as well, but it is not impossible. If a company has a policy of this nature, it means they are open to talking about it, which is a great starting point.
It is not all over if your employer doesn't have a sabbatical scheme
So you have read the policy documents and there is not a sabbatical scheme, don't sweat, you just have to approach the situation in a different way.
Depending on the type and size of company that you work for, this may vary the reaction you get. At a larger, corporate company, they will have surplus staff that will be able to cover for you, while at a smaller company they may not have as much free cashflow to bring in a temp or locum. But, (there is always a but), smaller companies may be open to new ideas and may want to retain loyal staff that they have trained up, as this could be cost effective in the long run.
You never know how your employers are going to react to your request, so you just need to build up your nerve to ask the question. What is the worst that can happen??? I will tell you, they say "no" and then you either stick with your career, or you hand your notice in and leave anyway.
Just keep the following points in mind:
Prepare your case: Before you approach your employers, you need to prepare yourself and have a mini presentation in your head, as to why the career break will benefit you and the company. Make sure you have thought everything through before the meeting and you have rehearsed what you want to say. If your departure will create problems for the company, then come up with a solution of how this can be dealt with. You need to make it as effortless for the company as possible.
Be realistic: You need to think about your terms and set these out in the meeting, i.e. when you want to go and for how long. Ensure that your proposed leaving date will give the company enough time to prepare for your departure and don't ask for a career break lasting three years, as the likelihood is that they will say no. Most will give up to a year, or maybe two if you are at a larger company, but a small independent company may only grant 6 months, you need to be realistic based on your circumstances.
Get it in writing: You can't believe it, your employer agreed to let your have the time off and will keep your job open, now get it in writing. This isn't just the lawyer coming out in me, getting any agreement of this nature in writing it vital. You want to ensure that it states your full name, the leave date, how long your career break is to last, are they going to offer any remuneration while you are away. It will also need to state if the break will impact your pension, holiday entitlement or any other benefits (for example company car). Finally, you want to ensure it states the type of job and salary for when you return. Without this they could offer you a job cleaning the toilets for minimum wage, if they change your mind when you are away.
Leave on good terms: Either way if your employers agree to the career break, or if you decide to quit, try to leave on good terms. It is not a good idea to burn your bridges with employers, whatever the circumstances, so try and understand that they will have their reasons, if they don't accept your request. You don't know if you are going to need to call on them when you get back. Even though I quit my job, I left on good terms and sent update emails and postcards every now and again, just to keep in touch.
Keep up to date
This point is more important for some careers than others. Law, finance, insurance, fashion all constantly change and you will have to keep up with updates and trends. These are just a few examples, but majority of jobs will have an element of this. If you sign up to newsletters, don't cancel your subscriptions, select to have these emailed to you and make sure to set some time aside to read these and google is an incredible thing to see what is going on in your profession. This way, either if you are returning to the same company, or going to interviews it will help show employers that you are still committed to your job and are current.
Continue to network online
Linkedin is a great tool for this! Keep in touch with old contacts and continue to build new contacts online. This can in itself open further opportunities for you, when you are looking for a new role, or new business.
Spend some time on your CV
When you are home and it comes to applying for jobs, highlight your career break as a positive and don't try and hide it. Be positive and pick out key things you have learnt and experience while on your break. I have an article on how to approach career breaks in interviews, which you can read here.
I hope this helpful to anyone who wants to approach the subject with their employers and just remember the worst they can say in "no"!