How to Ask for a Career Break

4 minute read

There are many reasons why you might consider asking for a career break, from seeing more of the world to gaining qualifications. You might think it seems a bit far-fetched that your organisation would agree to let you take extended time off. However, there are many potential benefits of career breaks for charities, too.

Here’s what you need to know if you’re considering taking an extended break from your job.

Why do you want to take a career break?

Before asking for a career break, make sure the reasons why you want to take one are clear and that you know what you’d do with the time off.

How likely is it that you’ll still want to work in the same role and charity once you return? If one of the reasons for your career break is because you’re feeling stagnant in your current role, think about how likely it is that this will change when you return.

It’d be great if we could take career breaks without having to explain the reason. However, you might have to be realistic about the kind of break that’s likely to be approved. If it won’t have tangible benefits for the organisation, it’ll be more difficult to convince your manager that it’s worthwhile.


What are the risks of asking for a career break?

Unfortunately, your organisation is under no legal obligation to give you back your job when you return. The longer your career break goes on for, the more of a risk this is. You also won’t get paid during your break, and you won’t receive pension contributions. Make sure you do the maths before asking for a career break to figure out if you can afford the costs that it will entail.

Depending on how long you’re gone for, things could have moved on in your organisation or in the industry in the time that you’re away. This means that it might take you a while to get back into the flow of things when you return, and you could be slowing down your chances of getting a promotion as a result.

Close up of an adult woman working on a laptop and gazing out of the window. Asking for a career break.

How do you ask for a career break?

Now that you know why you’re asking for a career break, you can start thinking about how to approach this with your employer.

Here’s how you can ask for a career break in the most effective way.


1. Find out if there’s an existing policy

Some organisations already have policies that address career breaks. This can include in what circumstances they’ll be allowed and how long they can last. You might be able to find this information in your contract or in your employee handbook. If not, this is something you can ask your manager or HR department.


2. Think about your impact on the organisation

Build a positive relationship with your manager and work colleagues and make sure your contributions at work are seen and acknowledged. Take up any opportunities to be trained by work colleagues on their areas of expertise. If you have valuable organisation-specific knowledge, and your managers can see that you’re a hard worker, they’ll be more compelled to accept your career break rather than lose your talent.

Find a career with meaning

3. Give plenty of notice

You don’t want your request to come as too much of a surprise. Ideally, your manager would already be aware of the reasons why you’d like to take a career break before you ask. For example, you might have discussed with them that you’re looking for more opportunities to gain skills or experience in different areas, or that you want to develop a more global mindset.

When discussing something like taking a career break, timing is key. It’s best to ask during a performance review or a one-to-one, where you’ll already be talking about your career development. Make sure you choose a time that isn’t too stressful for your manager or for the organisation.


4. Highlight what the charity stands to gain

One of the main things that will come to mind for your manager when you ask for a career break is the impact it could have on the organisation. Especially at a charity, they’ll be very aware of budget constraints and the costs involved in training colleagues to cover your role or hiring someone to cover for you. It involves a lot more organisation and admin for them that they could probably do without.

Your career break is much more likely to be approved if you can show how it will positively impact the organisation. If you’re looking to spend your time volunteering, will you gain leadership skills? Or maybe you’ll gain qualifications while you’re away that will help you in your job when you return. Focusing on the skills you’ll gain is particularly important at a charity since they’re less likely to have the budget for training you themselves.

You could also highlight how taking a career break will benefit you mentally. Employees who report having more job satisfaction are more engaged at work and perform better in their role. If you’ve been given the opportunity to grow professionally and personally, you’ll feel more motivated and eager to get back to work when you return.

what would make you happier at work?

What if they don’t agree?

Despite your best efforts, your organisation might decide not to accept your request for a career break. If this happens, try to find out what the reasoning behind their decision is. There could still be a compromise that would suit both you and the charity. For example, they might be willing to accept your career break if it’s for a shorter period of time.

Alternatively, could you still achieve some of your goals by decreasing your hours or by working remotely? Greater flexibility could give you the room to travel or pursue things outside of work without needing to stop completely.

If no compromise can be reached, you might need to decide whether your current position is meeting your needs. Really evaluate how happy you are in your job. If you feel that the organisation isn’t a good match for your lifestyle, then it could be time to move on.

There are plenty of brilliant charities hiring on our website right now – take a look at some of the roles on offer.