4 Things Science Tells Us About Planning a Career Break

Written By: jeff

Posted On: March 28th, 2011

career break travel adventures in New Zealand

Harbor in Wellington New Zealand. Copyright

¨Sabbatical Leave Promotes Well Being¨

That is the bottom-line conclusion of a recent academic study, ¨Sabbatical Leave: Who Gains and How Much?¨, conducted by researchers from the US, Israel and New Zealand.  The study published in August 2010 by the American Psychological Association in its Journal of Applied Psychology attempted to measure the effects of a sabbatical on a person’s health and well-being.

Academic journals are not normally high on my reading list. I didn’t like reading them much when I was at university. They made my head hurt. But, I recently came across this study and decided to dive in. It turns out that just like in college, I needed to read the study a couple of times to get through the details of the analysis.

Those of us that are in the career break and sabbatical space write a lot about the benefits of taking time off. A lot of that is based on our personal experience and those of others that we meet. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to find someone that took a break and regretted it and didn’t get something out of the experience.  But, there hasn’t been much written to document in a cold, scientific way what those benefits are. This study is the first that I could find that addresses that gap.

What the Study Says

Here are the basic results. Know that I have attempted to translate the academic findings into normal English.

  1. Stress decreases during a career break. And, even though it comes back after returning to work, the level of stress is lower than before.
  2. Life satisfaction increases during the sabbatical but returns to ¨normal¨ over time after the break.
  3. People who can adapt easier to new environments got over burnout easier and suffered less from burnout after the career break.
  4. Those who believe they are more in control of their lives experienced even more benefit from their sabbatical.
  5. Those who detached more from their life at home experienced greater relief from stress and burnout and got more satisfaction from their career break. Furthermore, these people suffered less from stress and burnout after returning to work.
  6. Those that spent time abroad during their break experienced higher levels of rejuvenation than those that stayed in their home country.
career break travel adventures in Patagonia

The guanacos in Patagonia are waiting for you to come play! Copyright

Lessons Learned For Planning Your Career Break

  1. Go for it. Take the break! If you’ve been wondering if taking a break can really be that good, there is now a growing body of evidence that shows that it can be. If you are suffering from burnout, need to cut work-induced stress and just reconnect with your personal passions, a career break can give you that.
  2. Be in control, but don’t be a control freak. The act of taking time off from your career is an important step in taking control of your life. You will be taking the time to do the things that you want to do, the things you need to do. But, be flexible in terms of how you get your goals accomplished. You do yourself no favors by becoming a control freak while traveling. Plus, no other travelers will want to travel with you. And, meeting new people is half the experience (not a scientifically proven point).
  3. The more you leave it behind, the better. We’ve had some advice before on the site from career experts that recommend staying in touch while you’re away. But, it seems the more you can leave behind the more you will get out of your time off. Remember, a career break isn’t about becoming irresponsible. It’s about allowing yourself to focus on the things you need to do in your life while you see the world.
  4. Go overseas. There’s a whole world to see. So, take some time to go out and see a part of it. Chances are if you have a bit of the travel bug, there’s something or some place you’ve always wanted to go see. A career break trip is the perfect time to do it finally.

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2 Responses to “4 Things Science Tells Us About Planning a Career Break”

  1. It seems the main theme of this article is stress reduction. We are unaware the impact of stress on our bodies. I hadn’t noticed how bad it was for me until I left my job and started traveling.

    I had frozen shoulders, a broken down immune system (still recovering from that).

    This is a must-read article for those struggling with the decision.

  2. Maria says:

    I’m a huge fan career breaks – done it twice now – your tips are spot-on and now, science backs it up!
    Maria recently posted..Good Morning!

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