How to take a career break

Pausing your career can be daunting, but it can improve your future prospects if the time is used wisely
by Bethan Rees


There are a variety of reasons why you might want to consider a career break. You may want to recharge and reassess your career, start a family or stay at home with children, care for a family member or go travelling. In an article for Unbiased, Nick Green says that "taking a breather is most popular among professionals in their early-to-mid thirties – roughly the same time that many people settle down to have families." He continues: "This may be because it’s harder to make the leap when you have dependents to support, though it may still be possible to juggle family commitments with a career break."

In the UK, there are no specific laws that deal with a career break, "it is only an agreement between the employee and employer", says the UK Government website. Employers are not obliged to offer career breaks, but if they do, the policy must be "clearly laid out" and cover things such as:

  • eligibility and notice periods
  • how to apply and how long is allowed
  • if the employment contract's terms and conditions continue, for example, qualifying for pay increases.

You can take a career break independently of your employer and its policies, of course, by resigning.

You should consider carefully before taking a career break, as Green notes in the Unbiased article, because there can be drawbacks. These include an earnings gap, a hit to your long-term career prospects, and you could experience a reduction in your pensions, which will impact your retirement further down the line.

A WorkSmart article addresses the worry that a career break could harm future career prospects. It's important to view this as a "once-in-a-career opportunity to develop in ways that wouldn't be possible at work". Also, if you're worried about missing training opportunities, speak to your manager before you go and check in periodically while you're off "to identify ways you can keep up with opportunities and training at work".

Preparing financially"You shouldn't really consider a career break unless your finances are robust," writes Green in the Unbiased article. "Ideally you should be debt-free and if you have a mortgage you must be certain that you have the means to keep up repayments," he adds.

In an article for The Balance Careers, Jen Hubley Luckwaldt advises saving money before a career break, and to think about your financial needs on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. You'll need to consider how you'll be able to fill in any shortfall you might experience, such as doing some part-time work to make ends meet, says Luckwaldt. If you are taking a career break in accordance with your employer, you would need to check that this is in line with its policy though and be aware of the tax implications of such, says Green in the Unbiased article.

Also, says Green, "ask yourself whether you are really comfortable spending your savings in this way". You need to consider the impact on your pensions too. In the UK, "a pause in your earnings also means a gap in your pension contributions, such as your workplace pensions, and also a loss of National Insurance contributions, which may reduce your state pension entitlement", says Green.

If finances are tight, you could consider working for your employer on a part-time or freelance basis, a article suggests.

Relink with your networkAhead of taking a career break, reconnecting with old contacts in your network can be a good thing to do, says Luckwaldt in The Balance Careers article. "Plan some networking coffee dates or just a fun outing with old friends. … Use this as an opportunity to get motivated to make some plans. It’ll be fun, plus you’ll be refreshing your connections," she writes.

You can also use your career break as an opportunity to boost your professional profile, she says. "Don’t forget about the friends you made along the way. … Every person who will write you a recommendation or refer you for a job is a contact who might help you find your next big career move," writes Luckwaldt.

Re-entry plan

Whether you're planning on going back to your employer or starting a new career, it's important to think about returning. "Don’t wait until [the end of your career break] to think about how you’ll get back into the swing of things professionally," advises Luckwaldt.

If you're working in a sector where freelancing is common and you’re on good terms with your current employer, you might want to "get in touch to pick up some contract work once you're ready", she says. Also, keep your CV up to date and refresh your social pages to show you're ready to hire or free to work, she says.

You might be anxious about trying to explain your career gap to future potential employers. We have written about 'How to explain employment gaps in an interview' previously, which touches on areas such as being transparent and not hiding gaps while explaining how they've impacted you professionally.

The article says you could be really upfront and list your career break on your CV, with a clear title, dates and bullet points on what you achieved.

A career break could benefit you professionally, also. In the Unbiased article, Green says that it can "improve your long-term prospects if you use it wisely", as it can present new opportunities leading to future career prospects, "enriching life-changing experiences" and new networking opportunities. On a more informal level, it could impact you positively in that you are able to "reboot your life" and feel refreshed after fewer work stresses and concentrating on mental and physical wellbeing.

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Published: 03 Sep 2021
  • Soft Skills
  • networking
  • retirement
  • Tax
  • Pensions
  • mental health
  • career development
  • Career advice

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