The New Year is traditionally a time to consider career goals and, increasingly, this can include taking time out from working life altogether.

According to charity Working Families, about 10% of employers in the US now offer staff formal sabbatical schemes. Although no such statistics are available in the UK, heightened awareness of work-life balance issues has paved the way for more employers to offer similar benefits.

The HR benefits of schemes are plentiful – they can aid retention, prevent burnout and keep staff productive. So should HR practitioners practise what they preach and take time out themselves?

Angela Baron, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), believes so. She says that although career breaks – especially paid ones – are still quite rare, if you are given the chance, it could be a good opportunity to build new skills.

“If you can get work experience in business functions outside HR, you can come back to the HR department with new abilities and valuable knowledge,” she says.

If a sabbatical appeals more as a way to take some serious time out to travel and recharge your batteries, or simply spend more time with your family, it can also be a positive career move.

“Employers often look more favourably on HR staff who have life experience. Taking time out can mean you come back to work a more rounded individual and that you feel more settled in your role,” adds Baron.

Angela O’Connor, HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service, took a six-month sabbatical to go travelling with her family, which she believes made her better at her job.

“When I went back to work I was refreshed, reinvigorated and had a completely different perspective on life and work, which has remained with me since. Having learned to do loads of things that scared the life out of me when I was travelling – such as diving with sharks – I found dealing with an HR job much less of an issue,” she says.

O’Connor thinks that taking time out can be good for your CV. “I have appointed people who have taken career breaks. Far from putting me off, I am much more interested in people who live life to the full. I believe in doing something every now and then that shakes me out of my comfort zone, and I would recommend it to others,” she says.

Baron says six months to a year is about the right amount of time to take as a career break. However, she advises staff to be flexible about the role they take when they return.

“Sabbaticals require staff to be able to return to a similar job at the same level,” she says. “However, if you do a very specific job, you may need to be more flexible when you return. It is much easier in larger organisations to find a suitable role, but for smaller organisations it requires more give and take.”

Reasons to take a career break

  • Gain work experience in different functions and build new skills.

  • Study for a new qualification to improve your CV.

  • Get a new focus and avoid burnout by taking time out with family or travelling.

  • Become more rounded – employers look favourably on HR professionals who have some life experience under their belt.

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