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My career break experience

Monday 14th September 2020

My career break experience

Go back 30 years and the subject of career breaks and juggling work life balance was something of a taboo subject. So much so it was often met with wariness, trepidation and even radio silence from many line managers and those higher up. But now in 2020, attitudes are changing. Organisations are more and more receptive to such conversations, with the overwhelming majority being encouraging and supportive of such ideas.

The benefits are obvious: the opportunity to reenergise, refocus and ultimately develop ourselves as human beings. This brings clear advantages to the world of work too, with people returning to their roles with new experiences, new skills and a new view of the world; all of which can inform ideas, influence approaches and inspire colleagues in the workplace.   

 Here at NECS, we do all we can to facilitate and encourage such breaks, just as Luke Patel did last year by taking a six month sabbatical to play cricket in Australia. More recently, Karen Elliot, Senior Finance Manager in our Financial Service team, has taken time out to rekindle her love of teaching by spending time in Bangkok. Here, Karen tells her story and the benefits her career break brought.

I want to share my experience regarding my career break. My day job in the UK is as a senior finance manager for NECS. I generally work on assignments supporting transformation programmes, from both a programme management and finance perspective. The job requires quick thinking, strategic knowledge, and obviously technical knowledge but also relationship development and management.

I was in a position to be lucky enough to be able to take a year out, and to be supported by my employer, to do so. I qualified and worked as a TEFL teacher over 30 years ago and planned my year out in advance. I had a job working in a small private school on the outskirts of Bangkok, Monday to Friday, and the school agreed to help me with my visa application and with finding a flat.

Obviously even with the best of planning, COVID and a Thai lockdown wasn’t really part of my plan. I managed to get a repatriation flight via the UK embassy in June 2020, 3 months ahead of my expected return.

What did the career break do for me? Personally it allowed me to do a job I love again, take a break from the “norm”, make friends (even though we mostly don’t speak the same language), see places I would never have seen as a tourist and to challenge myself to just do something I’d wanted to do for a long time.

From a professional point of view I have been back at work since July, and feel reinvigorated to take on challenges. Living in a country where you have communication difficulties, especially in a time of crisis, has increased my confidence in being able to cope with the unknown. Working in a country where no one has a plan for the next hour, never mind the next week has also made me realise that trying to control everything just isn’t possible, and often things just work out if you let them happen (my approach to programme management may have to change!).

Obviously these opportunities are limited, especially now, and not for everyone. But if you are thinking about doing something similar my advice is….plan for your arrival….and enjoy it. Things are unlikely to go to plan but that isn’t a bad thing! I will never ever forget my Thai experience and I really think it has made a change to how I work and live.

A big thank you to Karen for sharing her experience and journey. We’re excited to see what changes and ideas she can bring to her team and role back home.

We’re firm believers that a temporary break or change in lifestyle can ultimately benefit us all as both people and organisations; particularly those opportunities that enrich our experiences and cultural understanding of the world.