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Taking a career break

Rhian Morgan

Rhian Morgan on the perks of taking a career break

At a dinner party a few weeks back, I was sat next to a man who gave up his job and bet his entire life on red at a roulette game in Vegas. Fast-forward to now and he has a beautiful wife, children, and career. Taking time out, risking everything, worked for him.

Maybe you don’t want to go that far. Maybe any break from the norm would be good. And while I’ve put my dream of camping out with rescue wolves in California on hold, take inspiration from Nick Braund, Head of Technology & Innovation at PHA Media, and Sarah Tanburn, a public sector specialist registered with Odgers Interim management  firm, both of whom gambled on taking a break – and won.

Nick’s story:

“I never took a break between school, university and work. My career at PHA Media began four weeks before I graduated so, after three years in a demanding industry, I felt like I wanted a break. Around the same time, my nan passed away and she left some money to be spent on travelling. I broke up with a long-term girlfriend, and had received notice that a friend and I had to move out of our flat. I was left with the choice of renting again for another year and staying in London or not. I chose the latter. I was worried as I think anyone would be. I had a great job, at a great company, and I was giving it up to spend a big chunk of my life savings on hopping around the world. Telling work was a nerve-racking experience, and I certainly thought about exactly how I wanted to phrase it. ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ came to mind. But I knew that if I didn’t take the opportunity I would regret it. Work, especially my direct manager, were fantastic and I left with the door open, which made the flight that little bit less scary. I took three months to travel around North America. I then flew home for Christmas. After three weeks getting my washing done and food cooked, I was back on a plane. First stop was Japan, followed by the typical backpacker route of South-East Asia, Australia and New Zealand, then holidays in Fiji and Hawaii. When I returned to the UK, I started work within a few weeks, setting up my own PR agency as part of a wider marketing company based in Exeter, my home town. I was desperate to get back to work and routine. I had worked for the marketing company before and knew they were missing a trick without PR. I ended up being based in Exeter for seven months before returning to London. I had regularly been in touch with my manager at PHA Media and knew there was an opportunity to return. I restarted at PHA, in a management role, 15 months after I left. I was soon promoted again, to my current role.I think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was daunting but I wouldn’t have been as settled as I am now, excited at the opportunity to develop. I know my itchy feet wouldn’t have scratched themselves. I could have been distracted and that would have impacted my long-term career. Travelling helped me adapt to new situations, becoming better at communicating when sometimes words just aren’t enough. Being sat with six Japanese university students who only knew the English for ‘David Beckham’ certainly makes you express yourself differently and I now use those skills in my job. My biggest regret would have been not taking the plunge. So the best advice I can offer is if you think something is for the best, it probably is. If you don’t even try, you’ll never know and regret it. I wouldn’t be the same person I am without making that tough decision and the experiences I had while travelling. I have memories of hiring a car and driving around Hawaii, judging beaches and not stopping at some because I had seen too much perfect, white sand, to sky diving over a volcano in New Zealand, to waking up in one of the leading universities in the US without my shoes nor a clue of how I got there. It’s those experiences, those people who you are fortunate enough to meet in incredible circumstances that define you as a person. I will end with one cliché - life is for living. So what are you waiting for?”

For more information on PHA Media, visit

Sarah’s story:

“After many years in management, it was the upheaval in the public sector that encouraged me to reassess the future direction of my career and, importantly, how I wanted to live.I became an interim manager for the chance to use my skills and get stuck into project work, but also for the opportunity to take long breaks between placements. It still suits me for the same reason. Until 2013, I enjoyed between three and five months off. Equally, some years I have worked straight through following contract extensions. In my view, it is not just the employee who benefits from the greater flexibility provided by interims but also the employer. Life is all about getting the right balance. And, aside from work, my passions are sailing and travelling. Sailing had taken me to New Zealand, and next year I will be part of a team taking a tall ship for a two-month expedition from Chile to South Africa via Antarctica. Life as an interim – with potentially extensive breaks in between placements – enables me to follow my heart and see the world. No doubt it would be difficult to sail the Atlantic or Pacific, let alone prepare for such a trip, in the confines of an ordinary career! I also moved on to my boat at the same time as starting interim work and it remained my home for the first 10 years. This matched my lifestyle perfectly, though there was a bizarre contrast between working in the corporate world and living on a boat! If you would like to follow my adventure next year, visit

For more on Odgers Interim management, visit

John Lees is a leading career strategist and transition coach, with regular TV and newspaper appearances. He is the author of 10 books, including How to Get a Job You Love. Visit

John’s 10 tips for negotiating a career break

  1. Seek pathfinders – people who have done it before you. Find out how they succeeded in taking a break without wrecking their careers.
  2. Talk to your pathfinders about what went badly as well as what went well – learn from their mistakes.
  3. Check out your employer’s attitude and policy – how and when are career breaks offered?
  4. Negotiate, don’t demand – you may have to ask more than once in different ways.
  5. Talk about what you will bring back, in terms of learning, enthusiasm, know-how, contacts, and awareness of other cultures.
  6. Have a clear reason for wanting to take a career break – don’t make it sound like a holiday.
  7. Anticipate the impact of your absence – actively assist to organise cover.
  8. Express your request in win/win language so that it’s clear what your employer gets out of the deal.
  9. Talk about the long term so that your employer believes you really will come back to the job, buzzing with renewed motivation.
  10. Plan your return carefully so you have a clear role or project to return to.


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