It used to be that having a gap on your résumé was considered taboo. These days, it is becoming more acceptable for professionals to take a career break to pursue their passions, care for others, volunteer, travel or consider a career transition. Millennials, who are expected to make up 35% of the global workforce by 2020, are leading the way with this new mindset. A recent report by ManpowerGroup shows that 84% of Millennials foresee significant career breaks along the way. This trend reinforces the idea that “career waves” are replacing the “career ladder” of earlier generations. Taking a break from work doesn’t have to be a blemish on your résumé. In fact, it could even be a selling point. Whether you want to hit the pause button and return to your current job or make a drastic change, here are four ways a break can benefit your career.
Cultivate a diverse mindset
Taking a career break to travel can be a transformative adventure. Experiencing different cultures, especially where you encounter language barriers, encourages you to hone your communication skills. It exposes you to diverse backgrounds, experiences and ways of thinking. This is especially valuable given that according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. workforce is going to become more diverse across nearly all demographic categories over the next six years. Traveling is also an excellent way to build an extensive global network that can benefit your long-term career. Whether you are an individual contributor or manage a team, these are assets that will make you a more valuable employee when you return to work.
Strengthen skills or develop new ones
Taking a career break can be used as an opportunity to strengthen your competencies or develop new ones related to your industry. Consider boosting your qualifications by taking a course at a nearby college or enrolling in a certificate program. Another obvious option is online learning. Online learning platforms like Udemy have more than 50,000 instructors teaching an endless array of courses in over 60 languages. Since all you need is a laptop, tablet or cell phone, this is a convenient and relatively inexpensive way to upgrade your skillset. Another online option is Masterclass, where you can learn from the best of the best in their fields. Interested in delving into the culinary arts with Gordon Ramsay or learning about filmmaking from Oscar-winning director Martin Scorsese? No problem, this instructional website has you covered.
Renew energy and gain perspective
Burnout has become a widespread epidemic among American workers. A Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. Because people find it difficult to disconnect from work, many employees need to physically remove themselves from their jobs to regain a sense of balance. Taking a career break can be just what you need to renew your energy and gain perspective. Research supports this theory. In one study, analysts surveyed 61 leaders at five different nonprofit organizations with sabbatical programs. The majority of those surveyed said that the time away allowed them the space to generate new ideas and helped them gain greater confidence in themselves as leaders. Another study compared 129 university professors who took a sabbatical with 129 equally qualified colleagues who didn’t. Not surprisingly, those who took sabbaticals experienced a decline in stress and an increase in overall well-being. Interestingly, those positive changes often remained long after the professors returned to work. This suggests that not only do rested employees benefit from time away, the organization benefits as well.
Try on new career options
Sometimes we need to distance ourselves to realize that a job or career isn’t the right fit. A career break offers the opportunity to explore different options or even try out a new field. Some ways to test the waters include requesting informational interviews or volunteering with an organization to get a sense of the corporate culture. This is also a good time to experiment with working remotely or turning that passion project into your own small business.
A career break can be a life-changing experience. While many people dream of taking time off mid-career, few actually do it. The good news is that taking a hiatus can highlight to an organization that you want to further your skillset and expand your horizons. The key is to assert with confidence why you took time out, then shift the focus to future contributions you hope to make. Own it unapologetically, and you’ll soon find that taking a career break was the best decision you ever made.
If you’ve been feeling stuck and unfulfilled, download my free guide: 5 Signs It’s Time to Make a Bold Career Change!