Taking time off before starting a new job can benefit you personally and professionally. But how much time should you take, and how should you negotiate it?
by Sophie Mackenzie
The second half of 2021 has seen a surge in job opportunities, with the CIPD reporting in its summer Labour market outlook that 69% of UK companies planned to recruit in the three months to September. It’s a great time to be looking for your next career move – but it might be worth slowing down the process and taking a break before embracing your new role.
Whether it’s gardening leave, accrued holiday or the strangely named ‘jobbymoon’, a break between jobs can leave you “refreshed and recharged, ready to take on a new challenge”, says executive coach Rebecca Zucker in a Harvard Business Review article.
“I took a year-long sabbatical in Paris earlier in my career, after working a few years in investment banking and then in an equally demanding job in strategic planning. This extended time off allowed me to re-evaluate and reset the course of my career and life for the better,” says Rebecca.
Such a lengthy and life-changing career break isn’t an option for everyone. There are many factors to consider: your finances, the impact of a gap in your CV, and of course your new employer’s willingness to delay your start date.
“When negotiating any job offer, I would highly recommend you spend some serious time thinking about when you’d like to start,” writes Travis O’Rourke, president, Hays, Canada, in a 2019 blog post. “After all, taking a break, whether it be just for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, can be hugely beneficial in more ways than you may realise.”
However, given the effect of the pandemic on staff turnover and the resulting rush to fill vacancies, employers might understandably urge new hires to come on board as soon as possible. This is not necessarily beneficial to either party, as Travis points out.
“Research published in 2014 by John Pencavel of Stanford University finds that overworking can make us less productive", writes Travis, to the point where those who work 70 hours a week achieve no more than those who work 55 hours. "Not only that, but a study by the University of Vienna found that taking a vacation improved the quality of both sleep and mood, and led to fewer reports of physical complaints for up to five weeks after the break from work."
So, how should you approach the negotiation process? A blog post for the companies review platform Inhersight offers these pointers:
- Ask about the start date during the interview
By asking, “When would you like the person in this position to start?” you can learn the employer’s ideal start date before you even get the job offer.
Negotiate after you receive the job offer
Make sure you have a written offer in hand before proposing a new start date.
Don’t say that the date works for you if it really doesn’t.
Use positive language
Instead of, “I really don’t think it’s fair that I have to start on that day,” say, “I’m confident I would feel better equipped to hit the ground running in three weeks.”
- Don’t flake on the date you negotiated
The worst thing you can do is score a new start date, then attempt to change it again. Once you get the start date you negotiated, honour it.
And Rebecca points out in the Harvard Business Review: “Research shows that negotiations are more successful when they are multi-issue negotiations, and your start date is one of many variables up for discussion.”
Negotiations concluded, you’ve successfully agreed a start date that works for you and your new employer. To make the most of the breathing space between jobs, it's worth thinking about how you'll spend that time.
"Taking a staycation or spending a few days at home" can be restorative and refreshing, writes Travis in the Hays blog, but it’s not all about relaxing. “Take the time to get yourself into the right mindset for the role. Have you planned and practised your commute? What about purchasing the right outfit, or getting all that miscellaneous ‘life admin’ done before your daily schedule becomes swamped once more? You might even send an email to your new boss, letting them know how excited you are to join.”
Careers platform Indeed.com offers further pointers for making the most of your time off:
- Make a list of priorities
Plan what you want to accomplish during your time off. Maybe these are household chores or plans with friends. Your goal could also be to give yourself time to relax. Sometimes an accomplishment can be the act of allowing yourself to do nothing and enjoying it.
- Keep a relaxed schedule
When deciding what your priorities are, remember also to give yourself plenty of free time. This is your chance to live a little more spontaneously and decide what you want to do in the moment. Making time for yourself can help you reconnect with the person you are outside of work.
- Consider your budget
Since you are going without pay for a period of time, make sure to budget accordingly. Maybe you have some money set aside specifically for travel and leisure purposes. Just make sure that what you do during this time allows you to keep up with your regular finances.
- Try to disconnect
Many jobs require you to stay connected digitally throughout the entire day. Use your break as a time to turn off your notifications and live presently. This can help you focus more on yourself and your goals rather than what’s going on everywhere else. Still, remember to check your email periodically in case your new employer sends you HR paperwork or orientation materials.