What is a Career Break and is it Right for You?

Are you considering taking a much-needed hiatus from your job? We help you decide whether it’s the right move or not.

If you're considering taking a career break, you're not alone. Millions of people in the U.S. are leaving the workforce temporarily for all sorts of reasons. Whether it's because of mental health issues, caregiving responsibilities, or pursuing professional development, taking a career break has grown into a trend.

A large majority of the people taking career breaks are those in parenting roles, especially women. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), significantly more women than men are currently out of the labor force. In fact, women's jobs on payroll are still more than 1 million below pre-pandemic levels, while men's are around 500,000 below. One of the main reasons behind this is that typically the burden of family care falls disproportionately on women who then face the challenge of balancing work and family obligations.

Gen Z and millennials are also taking career breaks in record numbers. These generations struggle with financial anxiety, a lack of healthy work-life balance, and high-stress levels. However, instead of making quick transitions into better-paying or more suitable jobs, they are taking time to learn new skills, network, reassess their priorities and strive for change.

While taking a break from work can be an excellent investment in your professional and personal well-being, planning carefully for your future return to the workforce is also essential. If you're wondering, "Should I quit my job and take a break?" you'll need to evaluate if - and when - a career hiatus is right for you.

What is a Career Break and How Does it Differ from a Sabbatical?

A career break is an unpaid, purposeful time out of the workforce. Sometimes referred to as the 'adult gap year,' career breaks have become more and more popular as people attempt to establish a healthier work-life balance. They can last anywhere from two months onwards but typically span 6 months to a year.

A break will vary depending on your situation and how long you can afford to be unemployed. Career breaks can allow you to expand your horizons, learn new skills, pursue a passion, or even travel the world.

On the other hand, a sabbatical is a paid or unpaid, extended break from work granted to an employee who agrees to return on a specific date. People commonly take sabbaticals to focus on their personal life or professional and academic growth.

Why Take a Career Break?

Before you decide to take a year off work or even just six months, it's important to determine why you are making this potentially life-changing decision. Let's look some of the reasons people take career breaks and why time away from work could benefit you:

  1. Learn a New Skillset

Gaining new qualifications and improving your skillset is a great opportunity to advance your career and is a valuable and excellent reason to take a break from working. With free time on your hands and no work distractions, you could enroll in a certificate program, take an online course, or sign up for volunteer work. These acquired skills could help you transition to a new industry altogether or open doors to better job prospects in your field.

  1. Spend Quality Time with Family

A healthy work-life balance is crucial to leading a happy and fulfilled life and is something we all deserve. Maybe you'd like to spend more time with your children, enhance your family relationships, or you need to care for an elderly or sick parent. Taking a break from work could be a much-needed opportunity to support and tend to those you love.

  1. Reduce Stress and Rejuvenate

Are you working overtime, burnt out, or trying to escape a toxic work environment? This is one of the most common reasons people decide to take a break from work. If your mental health is compromised, it may be time for you to consider leaving your job. Your time off will allow you to replenish your energy and motivation before returning to a more positive, healthier workplace.

  1. Gain a New Perspective

Whether you're considering taking a career break at 30 to reevaluate your life goals or looking to change your profession later in life, a work break could be just what you need. Many people find themselves stagnant at work, lacking motivation and enthusiasm. Time away can benefit anyone who has spent a long time in the same company and can be the perfect catalyst for attaining a new outlook on life. After a few months of contemplation and exploration, you'll be clearer about your options and what you genuinely want to do with your life.

  1. Travel or Work Abroad

Wondering how to take a year off work and travel the world? While this decision requires careful and serious planning, it could be the best move you ever make. Maybe you've always wanted to travel to Europe or the Far East, or you've been thinking about studying or working in Australia. Whatever the case, traveling can help you build a global network of influential people and present opportunities you hadn't considered before. Taking a break from work to travel can boost your confidence, widen your horizons, and bring new experiences to your life.

How Long Should Your Break Last?

The length of your break depends entirely on your circumstances and goals. What do you aim to get out of it? If you're planning to gain a qualification or study abroad to help advance your career, one or two years may be completely acceptable. Or maybe you're just taking time away to reflect, refresh and reset. In this case, two to six months may be enough time to figure out your next move.

Remember, the longer your break from work, the more challenging it may be to get back into the workplace. Also, take into consideration how long you can afford to be unemployed. The more you have saved up, the more time you can devote to your break without worrying about expenses or financial emergencies.

The Pros and Cons of Taking a Career Break

While a there are obvious benefits of a career break, you must also consider the challenges it could bring. Ensure it's the right decision before diving in. Here are some pros and cons that can help you determine if this is the right move for you.

Pros of Taking a Break from Work:

  • opportunity for growth
  • time for rejuvenation and reflection
  • ability to expand your network
  • path to personal fulfillment
  • space to determine your future direction
  • learn new skills
  • master a passion

Cons of Taking a Break from Work:

  • it could halt your career progress for longer than expected
  • you may lose touch with your colleagues and industry
  • it may be harder to re-enter the workplace
  • lack of steady flow of income
  • you'll need to explain your break to a future employer

How to Explain a Break in Employment

First and foremost, it's important to know that taking a career break is nothing to be ashamed of and could actually work to your advantage. Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the benefits of a career hiatus, so it's crucial to present your employment gap in a positive and confident way.

On your resume, showcase any new skills and qualifications you've obtained during your career break. You can also briefly cover the life experiences and soft skills you've acquired during your time away. Use these to highlight the benefits this will bring to a potential employer. Also, remember to include your career gap in your cover letter and be prepared to answer questions about it in your interview.

Find a Career That You Don't Need a Break From

The decision to take a career break is a significant one, so if you're not quite prepared to leave the workforce yet but need a change of pace with a new job that offers flexibility and fits your lifestyle and career goals, you've come to the right place. Start your search today by creating a free Monster profile connecting you with top recruiters. We'll also send you job leads and valuable career advice to help you on your journey.