A Career Break?

We were torn. We both decided that we wanted to travel. Our first thought was South America for four weeks, as this was the longest period of time we could have off from work in one go.  

It’s just not long enough. 

What other options did we have? We had only two. Resign, give up both of our jobs and see where we end up at the end of it all or take a career break.

Many organisations provide policies for career breaks or sabbaticals, but not many people know about them. We both work for a large UK Police Force and they, like most of the forces in the UK, have a career break policy. 

Ours was easy to find, all of our policies are retrievable from an intranet system on the work computer. It was pretty easy to understand too, all of the important information was clearly set out. 

We had one problem. Our planned travels would take seven months. The career break policy at work was for a minimum of twelve months. The unpaid leave policy covered a period of four weeks. There’s nothing to cover the period in between. 

We spoke to our Unite rep and asked for guidance. We were told to apply for a career break, specifying the seven month period. Apply separately, but reference each other’s application.

The policy required that we gave two months notice of our intentions. The organisation then had twenty-eight days to respond.

The application form was a basic Word document, spread over only two sides of A4. Personal details, such as a name and address then the dates of the career break. There was a box, which allowed four lines for the reason behind the career break. 

We both added another side of A4 with our reasons for wanting to take the break. This bit is important. The organisation need to know what you’re going to get up to and more importantly, that you plan on coming back. We wanted to show the organisation what we would gain from the break, and in turn, what they would gain when we return. Going on an extended holiday probably won’t wash it. 

We both work in the same department, so the applications had to be handed in on the same day. We were both very nervous. We were asking for seven months off of work. No one else in the department had ever done this. We were unsure what response we were going to get and how the application would be received.

The application had to go to our first line managers, then to the department head and then to the HR Manager. Each would add their supporting (or not) comments at each stage. 

My line manager called my name from his office.

“RYAN? Have you got a minute?”

My heart skipped a beat. We’re about to talk about my career break. My hands were sweating.

He sat me down and explained that he completely understood the reasons for me wanting to take a career break, but couldn’t support it at this time. The disappointment showed on my face, I couldn’t hide it. He explained that the organisation had spent a lot of money on me and they wanted to see more return on that investment before letting me go. I wanted to bang my head against the wall. The whole reason for applying for a career break was so that I could return at the end and give them a return on that investment. I tried to explain that none of that money is or will be wasted if I go away fro twelve months and then come back. It seemed to fall on deaf ears.

I left his office feeling deflated but not defeated. I knew that his refusal alone didn’t mean it was a no from the organisation. The department manager and HR had to have their say yet. 

The next day, the department manager emailed me to say that she’d received both of our applications and she was meeting with other managers on the following Monday to try and find cover for us both. This sounded great. This sounded like they were happy for us to go and they were trying to find a way to cover us. 


When she came back to me, it was good news and not so good news. She saw ‘no justifiable reason‘ to refuse our application but it would have to be for a minimum of twelve months. The policy didn’t allow for any lesser period of time. 

We hadn’t planned to stay away for twelve months. It’s a long time to be away, without an income. After some deliberation, we’ve decided to go for it.  We know that we won’t have an opportunity to do anything like this again. So we’re currently sorting things out at work, devising a leaving strategy. I’ll need to ensure that any statements required over the next few months are typed up in advance and signed.

Our advice to anyone else thinking of applying for a career break will be to make sure you read and fully understand your organisation’s policy. What happens if there are redundancies whilst you are away? What happens if you fall pregnant whilst away? Can you resign during the career break? What notice period should you give? Check if you’re eligible for a career break. Have you worked for the organisation for long enough? Are you in a probationary period? 

One thing to be wary of is that although most organisations will probably guarantee you a job, at the same grade, when you return, it’s not necessarily going to be in the same role. Are you happy to return, but in a completely different role? Really think about this before you apply.  

Most organisations will consider career breaks for most reasons. The only reason that many organisations will flat outright refuse, is if you plan on seeking paid employment during the break.

Although it’s not finalised yet, there’s still paperwork to complete. Our World Wide travels are now a reality. No longer just a distant dream. We’ve got lots to do and plan before we go. 

62 days and counting.

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