During the Great Reshuffle, we’ve seen professionals experience drastic shifts in their lives that have created a significant macro change in the way professionals engage with work. Whether it’s quitting, being laid off, making lateral career/industry moves, or pursuing entrepreneurship, professionals are having conversations about their role in the workplace. With work burnout and work-related stress at an all-time high (79%), as professionals, sometimes we need to press pause and simply take a break.
Sometimes taking a career break is not so simple. There are stigmas that accompany taking extended time off that often prevent us from taking care of ourselves physically, mentally and emotionally. As a Black woman and senior leader who decided to pursue a short but much-needed career break, I know first-hand how difficult and scary it can be to admit you need a break.
In order to help drive more equitable outcomes for the workforce, new LinkedIn research takes a closer look at the stigmas often associated with career breaks, how to ask for a career break, and tips for returning to work following an extended time off.
Stigmas associated with career breaks
Contrary to what many people may think, the majority of professionals have taken a break at some point in their careers. LinkedIn research found that 62% of professionals globally have experienced a career break at some point in their career, with the top reasons including parental leave (22%), medical leave (17%) and mental health (14%).
When I connect with professionals around the idea of taking an extended break from work, I’m met with hesitancy or uncertainty. How does someone know when it’s time to take a break? How do I ask to take a break? Will this stifle my career growth? Will I be able to land any job following?
While it’s often difficult for professionals to decide they need to take a career break, the pros strongly outweigh the cons with professionals noting that taking an extended time off has helped them to gain a new perspective and figure out what they really want from life (71%). Additionally, those who have taken a career break have also reported that it positively impacted their well being (70%) and gave them more confidence (61%). The benefits also extend to many employers and hiring managers who’ve found that employees and candidates with career breaks are an untapped talent pool (46%).
Understanding the value career breaks have on professionals, it’s important that leaders help reduce this stigma and normalize taking time off by leading by example, providing resources to help employees take time off or offering a return to work program to help employees re-enter the company following an extended time off.
How to ask for a career break
Personally, I know firsthand how scary it can be to ask for a career break. A sports analogy helped me clearly see that my career break wasn’t a choice – it was non-negotiable. As a basketball athlete, if during a game, I sustained a serious injury, I wouldn’t have any other choice than to come out of the game. If that injury required me to undergo surgery, rigorous therapy and rehabilitation, there is no way, once healed, I’d step back onto the court again with the mindset of “well, I’ll just play until I re-injure myself.” On what planet would that make even a modicum of sense?! It was clear that not only was the break necessary, but I needed to make changes so as not to repeat the cycle. My burnout and mental health was an injury, as critical as an ACL (and MCL and meniscus) tear, that put me on the bench.
Once you decide that a career break is right for you, you’ll need to strategize on how you’ll ask for one. Here are three to consider:
- Identifying your Why: Before taking a career break, spend time crafting and putting language to your ‘why.’ Answer the question, “Why is this break crucial to my, the team, the company’s success, ” and maybe more importantly, “What will happen if I don’t take the break.” Sharing this with HR, your manager or any other key stakeholders will frame up the case for your break.
- Find an Ally: Identifying an ally, mentor, coach or sponsor who has taken a career break can be instrumental in helping you navigate company culture and those seemingly tricky conversations. They’ve been there and may know some tips/tricks.
- Set Realistic Expectations: When taking a career break, it’s important to set realistic expectations. Oftentimes, professionals can feel pressured to make significant changes or improvements in order to have a “successful” break, such as learning new skills or deciding to travel the world. However, the best career break is one where you feel that you have taken care of yourself, and that can be as simple as going on walks, attending yoga classes, or spending more time with your family. In fact, before I took my break, I received great advice from a C-suite leader “don’t put pressure on yourself by feeling like you have set any crazy expectations”, which let me know it was ok to just take time to be.
Returning to work after a career break
When returning to work from a career break it’s important to recognize what you need from a workplace following your time off. This may mean implementing changes at your existing company or looking for a company that offers flexible work schedules or “Return-to-Work” programs that provide resources to help professionals integrate back into a company after a break. When I returned from my career break, it was evident to me that I needed to start slowly and make changes in the way I worked such as: setting and maintaining boundaries and having an accountability partner.
There is no set standard of time that constitutes a career break; however, it’s important to recognize the benefits that your time off can bring. To help professionals reduce the stigma around taking a career break, LinkedIn’s new feature allows members to adequately showcase their career break in the Experience section of their profile. With this added capability it will be much easier for professionals and employers to have an open conversation about the skills and experiences amassed away from the traditional workplace.
It’s important that as we navigate this new world of work, we as professionals, leaders and frankly humans, do not underestimate the power of physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.