Five important steps in planning your career break

If you reached this page, then probably you are looking to opt for a career break or have taken the plunge already. But am sure there is lot of thoughts flooding your mind and blinding you from taking a firm decision. And am sure the factors affecting you are largely the ones related to financials (loss of regular income) and whether you will get a job after the break. While financials are a crucial aspect which needs to be fixed, other factors are all secondary and can be managed quiet easily, if you planned your break well.

If you are financially sound and have enough money to manage the period of break, then ignore this article. If you are single and/or have working parents supporting you, leave this page right now. But if you are one who is stuck with mounting debts (housing, car, credit cards and others) or have a family depending on you and worrying about their future, at the same time desperate to take a break, this article can help. I was going through same and struggled a year to arrive at a decision, which am glad I took.

Any time your heart tries to embrace freedom and break free, the mind goes on reminding you “Are you dumb? Who will pay all your debts”? The moment that happens, you come back from the dream and get back to work and thank god you have a regular salary. But there is a saturation point where you will have to take a decision between both. This article will discuss on 5 areas which you need to firm up before taking that final plunge, so that you don’t have to worry much about the future and just enjoy the break.

Step 1 - Period of Break

The period of break, which you intend to take should be decided first. It can vary from 3 months to 2 years. A break beyond 2 years can be troublesome if you are looking to get back to work, especially if you have crossed 40. Normally 1 – 2 year breaks are taken by those who want to try out other business options, take up some professional courses, or simply to take care of their children or NGO activities. For those who wanted some time off from work, the ideal period can be from 3 – 9 month, maximum 1 year.

The period of break is largely dependent on your financial strength, more about that later. Nevertheless, it’s important to align the break period with the surplus savings you have. The second point to consider is what activities you are going to do during the break. Have a list of major activities planned and check if the gap is good enough to complete them. Prioritize the activities, atleast the most important ones have to be completed comfortably. There is no point in getting back to work with pending stuff from your break, which will again stress you out.

Step 2 - Financials

This is the most important of all aspects to be considered before opting for a career break. You need to ensure you can survive the break period comfortably (read same standard of living). You also should keep in mind that you may have to extend your break period as well, so there needs to be a buffer kitty as well.

The best way to manage the finances during a career break is to consider the expenses as an investment on yourself, so that you don’t feel guilty of spending those hard saved money. If possible, ensure you and your family have the same comfortable life during the break period. There is no point in taking a break voluntarily and then forcing your family to live like a pauper every day.

If you have 12 times your monthly expenses as the reserve pool during your break, restrict your break to 8 – 10 months and start looking out for a job from month 9. Meanwhile, if you succeed to generate reasonable income from other activities or any business your tried out, then you can forget getting back to work. Otherwise, this should be an ideal time for you to dust out your contacts and start looking out for a job. Some broad areas of expenses are as below: (Indian scenario)

  • School Fees for kids

  • Monthly Expenses – All your grocery, clothes, rentals etc

  • Repayments – All your EMI’s, card payments and other outward payments

  • Bills – Approximate amount for internet, electricity, water charges, other taxes etc

  • Insurance Payments – Premiums

  • Adhoc Expenses – Keep 10 percent on the sum of the expenses above

All the above expenses minus any income (rental / other business) multiplied by your break period can be an approximate amount for the reserve. Move the reserve into a fixed deposit scheme or other fixed income plans which can be liquidated any time. Don’t invest them in mutual funds or stocks as they are volatile and any steep changes can spoil your plan. Once you fix your finances, then rest becomes easy.

Step 3 – Insurance

This could have been part of the financials but then it deserves to be treated separately and is the most important aspect (whether you are married or not).

If you are an Indian and worked in some private firm or MNC’s here, you are most probably covered through the company insurance schemes (both health and sometimes life too). So when you plan for a break, it’s important to insure yourself and your family and also do that well in advance (atleast 4 – 6 months) so that the policy is enforceable any point of time during the break. Remember, God forsaken, something happens to you, your family must be safe-guarded for the rest of their life.

Health Insurance - Ensure you take a family floater scheme and for a period of 2 years atleast. Not more than that, if you are going to get back to work (unless you have enough disposable income). Ensure you cover your parents as well.

Life insurance is one of the most misguided financial instrument in our country. For some reason people always opt for endowment and money back policies, which are useless. Either you opt for a break or not, ensure you have a Term Insurance policy covering your entire life (including your family), normally atleast 10 times your annual income or any amount above that based on your ability to pay the premium. The earlier you take this policy, the better. Infact this should be the first thing you do when you get a job.

Step 4 – Handling your closed ones at home

The moment you tell your folks about the thought of taking a break, hell breaks loose. Yes, it does. You may have to start the convincing act much earlier. So, start atleast 6 months in advance and inform them about your intention to take a break from regular work. Tell them about your plan (good things) and also the anticipated inconvenience which may happen (the bad things). Convince them that they can lead the same lifestyle during the break (and ensure you do that) and you have made all plans for the same.

Explain them on the various activities you will take up during the break to keep yourselves occupied. If it’s about upgrading yourself through higher education or additional certifications, tell them that it will help you in future to get a better job. It will also help you spend more time with your family… infact that will be the most significant expectation from their end…especially your kids. If you can convince them, be rest assured that they will stand by you and support you during the break.

Step 5 – Handling your boss (planning for the exit)

Discuss the possibility of taking a break much earlier with your boss. Don’t ever make it a surprise decision – no one is going to believe you. Ensure they are aware of your interests and also the concerns which are pushing you towards a break. If the organisation can support you and provide you alternatives then it’s a win-win situation. There are some organisations which offer sabbaticals and extended holidays to manage such situations. Many don’t, atleast in India. So it’s important for you to discuss this with your boss on a regular basis casually and get him prepared for this.

It’s also very important for you to keep the relationship with your organisation intact during this period. In all probabilities they (HR) don’t believe you about the break and expect you to join another organisation. There can be situations where they can become hostile and push you towards frustration. Luckily I dint have to go through this. But then it need not be the case always. Tell your boss your tentative date of resignation and if you will serve the notice period. It’s always better to serve the notice period in such scenarios and have a smooth handover plan.

If you plan the above 5 steps meticulously, then you can take the plunge happily and let things unfold itself during the break. But, as mentioned earlier the financial part is the most important.


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