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Why Everyone Benefits from Taking More Time Off Work

My favorite part of playing school sports was always halftime. I would dash around the field for the first half, chasing after the ball, all the while silently wishing for the referee to blow the whistle and grant me the respite of the sidelines. It was there, amidst teammates, parents, and a Tupperware container filled with cut oranges, that I could finally pause and process everything that had just happened.

I felt a similar sense of relief a few years ago when, after two decades of non-stop work, I decided to call halftime on my own career. Weary and worn, I stepped onto the sidelines and took my first proper break from work. My husband and I hopped into a campervan and spent nearly a year exploring the sunburnt corners of Australia. During that long career break, I noticed something extraordinary happening. It felt as though my brain was thawing out after 20 years of constant mental churn. It took a few months for the work noise to quiet down until, finally, I felt like the long break had reset something inside me.

I know how fortunate I was to be able to do this, but I also know I am not alone. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, the number of people taking significant breaks from their careers tripled from 2018 to 2022. While many people take time off work for various reasons—childcare, health, travel, education—a structured, proactive sabbatical is becoming increasingly common.

Researchers have identified three types of sabbaticals people unconsciously take when stepping off the treadmill for a set period. The first is a “working holiday,” where some type of work is combined with taking time away from usual pressures before rejoining your original profession. The second is a “free dive,” where you dive headfirst into something entirely different to make a jolting change. The final type is a “quest,” where you take time off to heal and recover before exploring new areas.

Despite the growing popularity of sabbaticals, there is still a stigma around taking time off work. Some employees prefer to keep gaps in their CV hidden when applying for new jobs. This is something we desperately need to change. We must normalize taking time out from work to spend it on other important things in life.

In 2022, LinkedIn added a feature allowing users to explain gaps in their career history after a survey of 23,000 people showed that over two-thirds had taken a break at some stage in their professional career. So, how do you go about lining up all the moving parts to take time out at a moment of your choosing? One way is to quit your job overnight and “Eat, Pray, Love” your way around the world to find yourself, but most people will need to plan it carefully.

Planning might involve years of thinking ahead to align various areas of your life, such as existing responsibilities like children and caring, health, savings, and alignment with other important people in your life. You also need to pick the right career moment, ideally before you burn out or feel other negative effects creeping in.

Some workplaces now encourage career breaks to keep staff engaged over the long term, while in others, you can only dream of handing in your notice and never returning. Whichever path you decide, taking time out of your career for a predetermined sabbatical is something you won’t regret. It’s on the sidelines where you can gain real perspective on how to best re-engage with the rest of the game, filled with renewed enthusiasm and fresh energy.

And don’t forget the oranges.

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