Executives from the HR multinational Gi Group offer advice on how to make the most of the experience of choosing to spend a period away from work 

Spending a few months or even years away from work is an unimaginable option for some people, but for others, it is a way to spend some time recharging their batteries and rethinking their lives. This voluntary disconnection, also known as a sabbatical, can be more productive than you might imagine but it takes planning and focus, according to executives from Gi Group Brasil, an Italian human resources multinational, who have experience of it.

Unlike a holiday or other types of leave, a sabbatical is not paid and people might be away from their professional activities, or even leave the company, for more than six months. Reasons for taking a break vary, but in general it is to reflect on personal and professional life, do a dream project or journey, care for a sick relative, and also maternity.

Fernanda Trindade, head of marketing at Gi Group Brasil, chose to take an eight-month sabbatical to disconnect from a stressful working routine and find new goals, making her dream of travelling around the world a reality. From January to September 2016, she backpacked around a total of 19 countries in Europe, Asia and South America with her then husband. To fund the journey, she gave up her apartment, sold almost everything she owned and even did temporary jobs in the places where she spent the most time.

The time she spent outside Brazil was vital for Fernanda to perfect her English and Spanish, which helped her find a job quickly when she came back from her sabbatical, and adopt a more productive and balanced pace of life. “I also became more selfless and calmer. And surer that there is much more to life than time in the office and social protocols. So, I started looking for professional opportunities that offered me a better quality of life and I also started looking at life with more affection, finding beauty in little things,” she says.

For Luciana Port, finance director of the company, her sabbatical was motivated by a move to the USA when her husband was transferred there in 1998. Her career break lasted for a year and a half, and in this time the executive travelled to Europe, took another postgraduate course and volunteered in a library.

According to her, as well as perfecting her English and discovering other cultures, living in another country taught her to interact with people in different ways and gave her a multicultural vision that enables her to see other ways of acting and planning the future more broadly. “I try to practise the concept of fair play, which is deeply rooted in the American people, in my personal life and my professional life.  Another important lesson was the culture of planning, which can be implemented in Brazil, with the appropriate flexibility, and have amazing results.”

Don’t lose sight of this advice

A sabbatical does not harm your career, but might not have the outcome the person hopes for in the professional sphere, warns João Dantas, head of human resources for Gi Group Brasil. “For the sabbatical to appear on your CV as something that makes you stand out and for it to be a transformative experience, it is vital to plan it, not as a long holiday, but as a time for learning, directly or indirectly, and reflecting on new habits and ways of acting.”

Check out these tips from someone who has had this experience and from the HR specialist:

Set yourself goals: before starting your sabbatical, think about the objectives you want to achieve, the goal in life you want to pursue, how you will manage to do everything you want to and how much time you think you will need.

Plan your finances: to allow yourself the luxury of taking that long career break, it is vital to prepare financially. Make a plan calculating how much you need to economise to have enough to dedicate yourself to your project and how much time you will need to achieve your goal. Check how much you can spend and look for options to save money. The more information you have, the more options you will have to cope with the unexpected.

Look for other sources of income: you will need money to support yourself while you are away from work. Temporary jobs are an ideal way to boost your budget and also experience something new. Take advantage of your knowledge to offer language classes or think of a technique you have a good command of and offer lessons in it.

Take the opportunity to learn something new: make the most of your sabbatical by learning everything you can. Do volunteer work, learn a new language or new and different techniques, talk to people to acquire new experiences and discover different cultures, that might help you in your personal and professional development.

– Be open to innovation: if you go travelling, visit various places and above all keep your mind open to what is new, unusual and unexpected. There is beauty and intelligence in all cultures, so respect them, try to understand them and practise them. Also, make a contribution wherever you go.

Negotiate with your company: find out whether the company you work for will agree to keep your post open while you are pursuing your personal project and how long you can be away from your duties.

– How to prepare to return to work: when looking for a new opportunity after your sabbatical, research the culture of the organisations you want to work in and find out how they view sabbatical periods. These career breaks are increasingly common and most big companies have programmes to encourage this sort of practice.

How to update your CV after a break: in your CV and at job interviews, describe the skills you have acquired, your experiences and how you can contribute to the company with what you learnt during this period, emphasising what best fits in with the position you want.

“Don’t be afraid, step up. Corporations know that career paths nowadays are a frenetic tangle of coming and going. And the right company will be able to recognise your courage in tackling something so transformative,” advises Dantas.

 

Fernanda Trindade, Marketing and PR Manager

João Dantas, HR Manager

Luciana Port, CFO