Could You Join The Sabbatical Squad? (Metro, 5th Nov 2015)


You’re not a real celeb unless you’ve taken a break. But can mere mortals take the risk, asks Amy Dawson.

WORKING in a charity shop for a month is a far cry from hosting the MTV awards or playing three sold-out nights at Wembley Stadium. But that’s exactly what Ed Sheeran is said to be planning in his Suffolk hometown as a break from music. And he’s not the only celeb thinking along the same lines – One Direction are shortly to go off on a hiatus, while Sheeran’s BFF Taylor Swift also hopes to disappear for a while after her world tour is over. ‘I should take some time off,’ she told NME. ‘I think people might need a break from me. I’m going to… I don’t know. Hang out with my friends. Write new music. Maybe not write new music.’

It’s all well and good for A-listers, you might be thinking, but us mere mortals can’t simply press pause on our working lives. Or can we? It turns out that a growing number of us are doing just that.

Health And Fitness Travel, specialists in healthy holidays worldwide, suggests four million people have recently taken a career break to combat stress and burn out. Most of us will have been working hard, in education or employment, for years without ever taking much more than the occasional fortnight’s holiday – no wonder we need to step off the treadmill for a while.

Life coach Liz Goodchild is a big fan of having a brain break. ‘Taking a career pause is a little like having a massage, but for your mind,’ she says. ‘Sometimes we get stuck in the relentlessness of our career, not knowing quite why or how we got to where we are. Taking a pause gives our brains a break – allowing us to get clear about what we want. It seems that more and more people are waking up to the fact that they’re ten years into a career that makes absolutely no sense to them. They’re miserable and frustrated, and yet they don’t know what to do about it. A career pause takes the foot off the gas.’

Far from leaving a black mark on your CV, changing attitudes mean a career break could enhance your prospects – providing you go about it in the right way. ‘Employers are always impressed by people who have done something to make them stand out,’ says careers expert Paul MacKenzie-Cummins. ‘Joining a company straight out of university and steadily climbing the ladder is all well and good but to really make your mark you need to be remarkable. That’s what a career break can do for you – providing you can demonstrate a benefit in doing so.’

Your boss won’t necessarily need you to come back with a metaphorical toolbelt stuffed with crazy new skills, all ready to revolutionise their business overnight.

What they might expect, however, are signs that you spent your time in a way that gave you something to use when you resume your role. And it’s for you to put the right spin on things.

‘If you work for an aid charity, what skills did you develop in that role?’ says MacKenzie-Cummins. ‘Perhaps you became better at working with others, maybe you learned how to delegate tasks effectively? Were your problem-solving skills and your ability to prioritise your workload developed? Did you improve your time management?’

Whatever you decide to do on your break, it’s important to suss out your employers’ feelings on the matter before you make any plans – if you hope to come back.

‘Job security has been consigned to the history books,’ says MacKenzie- Cummins. ‘So if you’re leaving a relatively secure position you should consider approaching your employer first to see if they have a policy for sabbaticals. If they don’t, think twice.’

The reality is that most of us won’t be in any financial position to take a mini adult gap year, or feel confident enough to go Adele-style awol from work (after two years shunning the limelight, the singer recently sprung new track Hello, the video for which was watched over 100million times in five days). But there are ways. Many mortgage companies will let you take a break in payments, and you could rent out your property.

At the end of the day, we’re all able to conjure up a million reasons why we shouldn’t take a break. But there are ways to summon up the courage. ‘Break it down into manageable pieces, take tiny steps,’ advises Goodchild. ‘This could be asking your boss to work four days instead of five for a trial period. You wouldn’t one day decide to run a marathon and the next day take the plunge and run the whole 26.2 miles after no training. And yet we often live our lives like this emotionally. Making change is massively overwhelming and scary, and our brains are hard-wired to keep us safe and avoid the unknowable. But it can be so, so worth it.’