Taking a Work Gap Doesn’t Mean You’re Lazy (And Why You Should Take One)
A recent survey from PwC shows that up to 65% of employees are looking for a new job right now. If you’re one of those people, expand your horizons – rather than looking for a new job, have you considered looking for… no job? That’s right, take a work gap!
What is a “work gap”?
While you’ve probably heard of a college student taking a gap year or a professor taking a sabbatical, it’s rare to see one take an extended period of time off just for their own personal interests. Some work gaps are also referred to as “adult gap years,” as it’s comparable to a break you’d take before university – some make their “funemployment” time last for one to three months, others plan for a year. For many, however, a work gap isn’t voluntary, as the 22 million people who lost their jobs at the beginning of the pandemic would tell you.
Monster’s 2019 State of the Candidate Survey reported that over 59% of Americans, even before the pandemic, experienced an unprecedented gap in their careers – of those, 37% say that it was due to being laid off. Of those who unexpectedly lost their jobs, either because they were fired or because their position was eliminated, 43% report it happening more than once.
That being said, while the “funemployed” crowd isn’t the majority, they aren’t as uncommon as you’d think. The study also reports that 18% of people who had a gap in employment simply chose to take some time off work, and another 13% wanted to further their education.
Should I really take a work gap?
Chances are, whether you want it to or not, a work gap will fall in your lap at some point during your adult life. Most people take work gaps for the obvious reason: starting a family. The 2019 State of the Candidate Survey notes that 48% of people take time off for family-related stresses, such as raising a child or taking care of a sick loved one. The second most common cause of a work gap is, as mentioned above, getting laid off. But what about the people who take a work gap just because they want to?
You don’t just need to be a tenured academic anxious to work on your third book – anyone can take a work gap, and you should consider it before it’s forced onto you. Getting fired, getting sick from overwork, or dealing with family strife can all cause the wrong kinds of work gaps, ones that cause you to feel overwhelmed and in financially distress, especially when you need financial aid. But a 2010 study on college professors found that those who took a university-sanctioned sabbatical (which lasts from three to twelve months) felt decreased stress upon returning and that reduced stress remained far after the end of one’s work gap. The same can’t be said for those whose work gaps were filled with a baby’s sleepless nights or the heartbreak of an ill relative.
Yes, work gaps can pop up without warning, and they can throw you for a loop. But if you plan in advance — making sure you are financially strong and have an idea of what you’d like to do during that timeframe — you’ll feel a little more in control if the time comes before you anticipate it.
What kinds of things to do during a work gap
Even if you spend the first couple of weeks of your work gap cleaning your house and watching Netflix, don’t leave your job just to do that for months on end. A gap year is essentially the time for you to fulfill any childhood fantasies (or adulthood fantasies) of life that you’ve never gotten to achieve. As long as you have the budget to live the life you’ve dreamed of, you can do anything your heart desires.
You might be someone who loves the great outdoors, in which case you’d prefer to spend your work gap in nature to recharge from years behind a stuffy computer desk. You don’t have to go backpacking through Thailand or start mountaineering in order to spend your work gap in the great outdoors, and you can always combine it with other things you’d like to do, like working at a camp or volunteering for the park service.
If you’re more of a “great indoors” kind of person, there are also a plethora of options. You could be interested in studying abroad or doing a language immersion, utilizing one of the many long-term tourist visas around the world to spend time brushing up on your Spanish in Ecuador, your Russian in Georgia, or your Australian in Australia. However applying to Russian, Australian, or Spanish online language lessons before can be a wise choice as it helps you mitigate potential inconveniences in a foreign country. If you’d rather stay local and stay inside, this is also an opportunity for you to chase a lifelong dream – write your novel, start a soap-making company, and take private tuba lessons, or classes in coding. The future is all yours if you’ll take it.
You could also be an altruistic person or at least someone who wants to make the world better in ways big or small. If you’re considering having a family one day, but you’re unsure about what kind of parent you’d be, use your work gap to become an au pair. You can also volunteer, either with a foreign aid program or locally doing physical labor like building houses. If you’re not into heavy lifting, you could also teach English abroad through one of the many programs offered worldwide.
And finally, you could be a health-conscious person who’s feeling just a little too burnt out after a year and a half on Zoom meetings. Stay for a while at Kripalu or travel to Iceland for some healing hot springs to restore your body. And for your mind, take some of the many hours of your day to go into intensive psychoanalysis, and really learn what makes you tick.
Things to know about re-entering the workforce
It’s entirely possible to negotiate for a sabbatical, and for executive leadership, depending on the company, there are sometimes programs that allow for a leave from work (and the data says they benefit the whole company!). But whether you leave one job to do some career soul-searching or take a break from your job knowing full well that you’ll return, you should have some semblance of a game plan regarding your re-emergence into the work world.
The first thing to remember is that when you come back into the fold and begin to interview again (or ease back into your old job), take some time to get reacquainted with the field you work in. You could get coffee with a former co-worker or do a deep-dive into Google Scholar, just find a few ways to re-learn some of the things you may have forgotten on your soul-searching quest. You could even occasionally check up on the news about your field during your sabbatical if you wanted to consistently stay in the loop, just as long as you don’t let it take over your leisure time.
Finally, and probably most importantly, every career advice website will tell you this: Learn to talk about your work gap. You don’t have to make it cheesy and tell a recruiter all about how you Eat-Pray-Loved across the world until you discovered the true meaning of project management. But you do have to find a way to relay all the things you learned about yourself and the world during your time away from work, and perhaps how you can apply those things to a job in the future.