December 16, 2012 @ 5:37 pm - posted by Heath

You have a job and you want to take a career break or Sabbatical, but you don’t want to give up your comfortable position in the world of the definitely employed. Maybe you have an adventure sabbatical in mind but would like to be able to return to work afterwards? Maybe you love your job but you’ve been there five years and feel your missing out on the travel thing? Or maybe your friends have just convinced you to join them on a trip of a lifetime. The problem is when the career break is over you want to return to your job and you want some assurance from your company this is possible.


Hopefully the questions and answers below will help answer some of your questions. If you have other questions, please get in touch and we’ll add them to the list.


How does a career break or sabbatical affect my employment?

Some companies agree to allow you to take some time off for a career break with a commitment they will re-engage your services when you end the career break. The arrangement can vary from company to company, but usually this should be considered as your employer’s best intentions.


What are my rights on a career break?

Very few. Usually the employer will end your pay and benefits. They might allow you to continue gaining service on your employment record. They will often provide a memorandum of understanding that upon your return they will reemploy you, however you should consider:

-   If your employer makes redundancies they could objectively select you on the basis that it would cause least disruption to the organisation

-   If your employer’s situation changes, this might affect whether they want to honour any commitments made to employee’s on career breaks

-   Employer’s are aware that employees on career breaks have a high chance of not returning to the company, therefore  they might plan accordingly

Career breaks should not be discouraged, but you should be aware that there are risks on both sides and a employer has to first consider how to manage its own operations


Do they have to honour any commitment?

No. A career break is as much an agreement based on honour, but it is not hard for an employer to get out of it if they want to. This should not put you off, understand the relationship has become looser, and also be open to approaches yourself, it might be you walking away from them.


When do I tell my company I want a career break?

It is probably best to start the discussions when you are relatively sure you want to take a career break. When you have this discussion your employee is likely to consider that there is an increased chance you will leave and might react accordingly.

This could mean promotions or pay rises are accelerated in a bid to encourage you to stay, but it could also mean that promotions or pay rises are avoided as it is considered there is no point investing in a leaver.


How will my employer react to my career break request?

This might depend on many factors.

  • Larger employers are better able to accommodate career breaks than smaller ones as they might have a constant turnover of staff in similar positions.
  • If you are a star performer they will be more keen to re-engage you than if they are happy for you to leave the organisation.
  • If they are growing they will be better able to accommodate a career break. A shrinking company might genuinely feel unable to accommodate the request.


Ways to sell a Career Break to my employers?

  • Provide reassurances that you are genuinely interested in returning to work for them
  • If you are working for a good cause, highlight any publicity it could bring them (i.e. HSBC worker goes to Africa to help build school)
  • If you provide solutions to the problems your career break might cause, then you are making it much easier for the employer to say yes
    • Do you know someone who could cover for you?
    • Does your break give someone an ideal chance for someone to get experience in your field?
    • If your company is in financial difficulties, could this give them an easy way to save some money without totally losing you?


My career break is agreed, what else do I need to do?

  • Swap contact details. It is in your interest to make sure that your employer can contact you when they need to.
  • Agree a communications plan, perhaps for a specific person to send you company emails, an online login, or a Skype call for you to get updates. Most importantly if there are big changes to your workplace in your absence, you might want to know about them before deciding whether to rush your flight home.
  • Take the agreement with you. Scan any career break agreement and your contract of employment and keep it on your email account in case you need it.


What if my employer wont agree a career break?

Take it anyway. If you’re good, you’ll get another job when you return. Make sure you thank your employer for their honesty. If they’ve not given you a career break its good that they told you up front rather than renege on a deal they can’t keep.

Remember – leaving on good terms with an employer gives you the chance to call them up and enquire about vacancies upon your return.


Will I damage my career?

When you are out of the workplace any career progression is put on hold. In terms of damaging your career you will become increasingly out of touch with your skills, so consider ways of staying up to date, but also think about limiting the length of your career break. For most professional jobs, breaks of over a year run the risk of leaving you being perceived as out of touch with your professional skills.

In terms of skills acquired on your career break, it is unlikely these are sellable to a new employer. However, you might find you mature, and these skills come across in how well you  tackle things on your return.

The two skills I have found most enhanced by my career break are:

-   My ability to negotiate my salary (literally, if you don’t pay me what I think I’m worth, I’m as happy to go off travelling again)

-   Managing across cultures – working for foreign companies it can help in the interview process if you can demonstrate a knowledge of the culture of their homeland (i.e. I understand how to communicate with Japanese staff because I’ve travelled there 3 times)


What should be done before returning to search for work

Before returning make good use of the internet to start re-establishing useful connections. I would make sure all of the following are done at least a month before I want to start job hunting:

  • Linked In – update it, and put in a status update saying you’re looking for work again
  • Recruitment Agents – email them to let them know you’ll be on the market and the date you expect to return. Try to set up some appointments and meet the agents so that when you get back they’re selling you, not just your CV
  • Make your CV searchable on the key job boards for your profession. There is a time lag from making it searchable to when it comes high up on the searches, so get it up there at least a month before you actually want to be working.


How do I list a career break on my CV?

Career breaks and travel are so common you are more likely to elicit jealousy than scorn. List the time period as “Independent Travel”. If you did an organised activity such as volunteer work, then list this as it will indicate someone who is capable.


Should I do it?

That question is like asking do you work to live? Or live to work? Taking a career break can be an amazing experience, but if you think of it in terms of breaking up your career its rarely the best move. Its better to think of the time off not as a career break, but as a life focus. I tell my friends I’m taking time out of my career to focus on my life and enjoy it.

Yes my career would have been more stable if I didn’t disappear every 5 years, but my friends have rarely been jealous of what I achieve at work. Talk to them about my lifestyle involving 50 countries, amazing people, and stories that never end, then they’ll all tell you they wish they could have had that life. The difference is the confidence to restart the job search when I get back.

About Heath

Heath Buck is an HR Consultant who has had a successful career in HR up to Director level whilst also managing the occasional career breaks. He can be reached through his website:

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