Emma Burkinshaw: on her experience of a career break

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Aug 14, 2023

Emma Burkinshaw, Senior Consultant in the North West NECS Consultancy team, talks about her experience of a career break and how flexibility in her working life has supported her personal ambitions.

“The Consultancy team has a real focus on work-life balance and flexibility and I feel really lucky to have this in an employer. In recent years, I have seen colleagues taking sabbaticals to play cricket in Australia, teach in Bangkok and travel to Latin America.

“I felt nervous when I brought up my idea of a sabbatical with my manager, who I had begun discussing promotion opportunities with. I decided to raise that I wanted to progress at NECS, but also pause for a six month break to travel and a couple of months later – on the same day as I was promoted to senior consultant – I had my sabbatical formally approved. I felt hugely supported.

“In October 2022, I packed all my belongings, had a ‘temporary leaving’ do, turned my out of office on and flew to Colombia to start my trip. Being away on my own was a fantastic experience, and something I really recommend. I spent my time travelling to Colombia, Ecuador and The Galapagos, Costa Rica, a brief and very last-minute return home for Christmas, followed by Thailand, Australia, Japan and Morocco. 

“What I was hugely reassured by was my supportive colleagues, who offered to keep me up to date with monthly newsletters, so I was privy to any key updates or changes within the team or wider NECS. This helped me still feel part of the team, and not overwhelmed on my return. Additionally, when I did return to work, I scheduled in person and virtual catch ups with colleagues in my regional team, to reconnect and catch up about the last six months. I was also given a week to focus on internal work and ‘finding my feet’ again, before restarting client projects.

“It is natural to worry about falling behind during a career break, but on reflection solo travel helped me gain many skills that were beneficial for my work life. This included communication skills. I spent all of my time staying in hostel dorm rooms, so I was constantly meeting and speaking with new people. I don’t think there was a day when I didn’t spend time with a stranger in the entire five and a half months. I also spent a lot of time communicating with people where we had a language barrier. When I landed in Ecuador, I spent an hour in a car to my hostel having an impromptu Spanish and English lesson with my taxi driver, both of us only speaking small amounts of each other’s language. We had such a laugh that he ended up taking me to and from the airport four times over my stay.

“I strengthened my flexibility and adaptability skills – I changed my plans all the time, including which countries I ended up visiting, sometimes with only a couple of days of notice. I turned up in cities with no plans for where I was going to stay and relied on recommendations from others for where to go next. I spent a lot of time on buses which rarely ran to time, the longest arriving a full 24 hours later than planned. I’m definitely better at ‘going with the flow’ now.

“I improved my decision making. Sometimes I ended up in situations that were uncomfortable, difficult and very occasionally scary. Navigating these on my own has given me the confidence to trust myself and to make quick decisions in stressful situations.

“Overall, I don’t look back at my time travelling and really think about how it links with my work life, or the skills I’ve developed. I look back on it as a wonderful opportunity, where I had a lot of fun, made lots of new friends, and tried out so many new activities and experiences. I’m grateful that my lovely team at NECS were supportive of my decision to do this, and supportive of me coming back and re-joining the team.