Artwork by: Alexandra Shevchenko
Feeling like you need a change? Does work feel like a drag? Explore options for taking a year off of work! Taking a break from work can be one of the best tools for your career growth. We’ll tell you how and why you should consider taking time off of work.
It’s been called many names: gap year, sabbatical, furlough, leave of absence. But all of these synonyms fail to embody the true purpose of taking a year off from work–strategy.
Professionals the world over are overworked and underpaid. This pattern creates a disconnection between an individual and their career goals.
For many, the idea of pausing life so they can realign themselves with their career goals is the only way to make a shift. Yet so few actually prioritize taking time off.
We will discuss the ins and outs of taking a year off from work so that you can focus on your future career.
In this article, we’ll discuss
Why people take time off from work.
How to use your time off from work as a career strategy.
What to say when requesting a leave of absence.
There are many ways that taking a leave of absence can benefit your career. Let’s go over the top two reasons.
It is incredibly common for people to experience burnout from their job. For many though, being burnt out doesn’t mean they lose their passion for their work. In this case, taking time away from the job can be incredibly restorative.
If you work in a field where you help other people, in any capacity really, then taking a year away from work might be the ticket to living out your career in a healthy and bountiful manner.
Career shifts can be very difficult to navigate. It requires you to have one foot in the future, looking for inspiration as to what direction you want to go. And one foot in the present, maintaining your integrity while you work in a position that you know isn’t serving you long-term.
Some of the cleanest career changes happen as a result of taking a year off from work.
Making a clean cut from your current role can be what you need to allow space for new opportunities to arise. It clears up your mental load as well as your daily schedule. Not having a daily job to report to can leave you time for enrolling in certification courses or college classes, applying for apprenticeships, or volunteering somewhere.
This route is more in support of self-discovery. In order to find yourself and figure out your future career, you need to let go of who you have been so you can embody who you want to become.
The amount of time you spend away from a job is entirely subjective. Consider some of the following aspects when deciding how long you can be away.
If you are hoping to return to your current position, a big determining factor is how much time off will be approved by your superiors.
Take a long look at your finances. How much do you have saved up, is it enough to support you for a year? Will you be able to recover from the loss of income? What kind of support services do your city and county offer, and do you qualify?
If your benefits stop, will your life be negatively affected? Do you take medication that would be terribly expensive without the aid of health insurance? Have these conversations with yourself as you consider your options.
There are many ways to continue your education without returning to university for years on end. Of course, if you do want to go that route, then you might want more than a year off to focus on your studies.
Alternatives include professional certification courses through LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, or Coursera. There are innumerable options available, many for a small cost, and they typically last under a year.
If you woke up recently and don’t recognize who you are or the life you’ve created for yourself, you might be on a journey of self-discovery. The reality is that after a year away, you might find that you want nothing to do with that old version of yourself. If your intuition is telling you that you need a big change in life and it begins with taking a break from your job, then you might want to take a longer leave. Consider quitting outright and committing to the journey. If you leave on good terms, you might even be able to return to your old company.
Taking a year off from work can be the biggest help to the future of your career. To optimize the value of your time off, be proactive and efficient with it.
Try moving to a cheaper place to live, you can even look into living abroad for a year.
Expose yourself to as much as possible. When you do return home, you want to be sure that it is the right choice. Take tours of different industry facilities. Go to university seminars. Join virtual groups to talk with like-minded people. Finding yourself will only help your career in the long run.
The only real reason why taking a year off could hurt your career is if you work in an industry where you need to keep up with the trends.
If you’re in marketing, have a weekly check-in with current trending ads. Perhaps you create a personal design challenge and spend 15 minutes creating a new ad every week.
If you work in finance, keep a loose eye on the market, your company’s holdings, global politics, and so forth.
If you’re in management, look up seminars every other month to keep up with best practices.
If you’re in the sciences, set an alert on your phone to receive all new peer-reviewed published works relating to your field.
There are many ways that you can keep up with your industry without actually participating in it. Plus, doing so will make it a seamless transition back to work when you do decide to return.
Requesting a year off of work can be intimidating. What if they say no? Will it reflect poorly on your commitment or professionalism? What if they take the opportunity to fire me?
A lot of these fears can be overcome by how you approach your boss.
Maintaining a professional demeanor is absolutely pivotal. Remember, in all professional relationships, the goal should be to leave doors open, not close them on your way out. To achieve this, remain level-headed, speak clearly and with soft words, don’t place blame on any person or entity, and show gratitude.
If you’d like to leave because of burnout, try saying:
“I am incredibly committed to this mission and I am proud of what our team has achieved so far. I am eager to continue working towards our goals. However, I feel myself falling into burnout. I want to avoid that so I can continue this work. As such, I would like to formally request a one-year leave of absence.”
If you’d like to leave because of a career shift, try saying:
“I am incredibly grateful for the time I’ve had at this company so far, and I am excited to see what more we can achieve together. When I was working on X project, I discovered a passion for program development. I want to grow my expertise by enrolling in X course. I’d like to request a leave of absence in order to achieve these new skills, in hopes of returning to the company as an even stronger team member.”
If you are leaning towards quitting outright from your position, you have a lot more leverage on your side. Be courteous and respectful in order to keep the door open.
“I have thoroughly enjoyed working here, but I have decided to pursue a different route for my career. I want to make sure my successor is set up for success. I will be available for two more months in order to help wrap up any loose ends and train the next person. Thank you for everything, and I hope to remain in touch in the future.”
Taking a year off work can help propel the longevity of your career.
Taking a year off work can open you up to different career opportunities.
Do your best to leave your current job on good terms, and there might be a spot waiting for you when you return.
Emma is a certified employment specialist with over six years of experience in career mentorship and employment training. Emma is passionate about nurturing professional growth and helping people gain momentum in their field. She uses her writing and strategic career planning skills to help her clients fulfill their aspirations and reach new chapters in their professions. In 2020, she helped design Colorado’s first state-certified training program for people with disabilities entering the workforce.