This page provides a brief guide on what to consider when planning a career break. Are finances and belongings accounted for, and how does the timing affect your relationship with your employer?
When planning your career break you need to decide if you are leaving your job permanently or whether you are planning on returning. You should plan how long you can afford to take off without this affecting your career and finances and what type of break you want to take.
A mini career break, which tends to last a month or less, can be an alternative to a simple holiday or a way of sampling a new role or country without having to fully commit. Mini career breaks also have the advantage of knowing you have your job to return to, and this amount of time off work tends to be easier to negotiate. They can also be easier and cheaper to organise. You may take a mini career break for family reasons, to travel, to do voluntary or paid work, or to learn new skills.
You may choose to use all your annual leave at once to take a mini career break, or negotiate unpaid days off but you should be prepared to discuss alternatives with your manager. Explain the benefits of this to then as you may learn a new skill that will benefit the business or return to work with fresh enthusiasm. You may need to plan this well in advance to allow for provisions to be made to cover your job while you are away.
Mini career breaks can be more secure than giving up work completely and you can still do some of what you want without missing out altogether.
The term sabbatical originally refers to taking a year out every seven years, but can be tailored to meet your needs. Some companies may offer this in their benefits package. As engineering can be a stressful career choice, these companies realise that offering some form of paid time out is a good way to give their employees a break. However, you may choose to take a sabbatical that is unpaid if this is not offered by your company.
Some universities and organisations offer funding and opportunities for sabbaticals and fellowships. The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust offers people taking a sabbatical the chance to do a worthwhile project that benefits the community abroad by providing monetary assistance.
Some people use a career break as an opportunity to do volunteer work. CSV offer voluntary placements that could are very rewarding, but could also help with employment opportunities later on. Their website shows one example of how a year out with them meant that someone who did not do very well with her A-level results was actually able to go to university as a result of the experience she gained on her year out.
Volunteering abroad can be very rewarding, allowing you to put your engineering skills into practice in a new environment to benefit the people that live there. EngineerAid allows engineers to volunteer their time and skills to assist with in developing countries.
The Voluntary Worker website has an informative case study on an engineer who worked on a project in Sudan, via EngineerAid.
If you are planning on returning, you will need to negotiate the time off and the conditions of your return. Obtaining this agreement in writing should guarantee that you will be able to return to the same job. You will also have to decide how long you are going to be away for.
Finances can be the biggest hurdle in a career break, so this needs to be planned well ahead of your actual break. If you are taking the time off to do a course, you may well be entitled to a student grant or career development loan. You will need to plan ahead for any payments you will need to make while you are away, such as mortgage payments and any direct debits.
Cancel anything that you do not need while you are away, such as newspaper delivery. It is also worthwhile trying to pay off your credit card before you depart as this will leave your maximum limit available for any emergencies that may arise while you are away.
In addition to finances, you need to decide what to do with your house and your belongings. You can choose to let your house out to earn income or you could arrange for a house sitter. If you own a car, you will need to decide if you will keep the car on the road and, if you have pets, what arrangements are needed for their care.
The timing of your career break should also be considered alongside the impact this may have on your employer. In difficult financial times companies may be less inclined to give you permission to take a career break, or be able to offer you a guaranteed job on your return. Equally, it is best to avoid asking for time off during periods which will have significant impact on major projects or when there are staff shortages.