To get ahead, you have to keep forging ahead; or at least that’s what we’ve all been told time and time again. But the age-old credo doesn’t always apply in today’s less-traditional work world. Millennials entering the workforce are looking for dynamic co-working spaces, remote access opportunities, work life balance and major meaning on the daily. And those who have been plugging away at a nine-to-five for decades are taking note, wondering if the younger set might actually be on to something.
As a result, opportunity is ripe for making moves—including pressing pause in the pursuit of moving forward. While workplace experts agree that breaks are necessary to boost performance, you may be wondering what happens when you need that five-minute desk meditation to turn into a mental health day, a two-week vacation, or a six-month sabbatical?
Here’s how stepping away can pave the road to stepping forward, and how to frame these breaks in your favor.
Research shows that our brains work best when periods of intense focus are broken up by rest. This means even the most diligent workers can benefit from pressing pause to reset intentions and restore motivation. Try taking a moment to reset at your desk by using a mindfulness app like Headspace or Insight Timer, or by checking out the popular site Do Nothing for 2 Minutes which offers visitors a momentary escape with relaxing photos and a two-minute timer. These mini-sessions provide an accessible opportunity for breaking up a major project or an extra-long workday without having to step away from your desk (or get approval from the boss).
Take a day
Mental health is a hot topic and more organizations are creating space and time for workers to take a day for self-care activities focused on avoiding burnout and relieving stress. These can often be taken as a scheduled sick day, which gives supervisors enough notice to provide additional support to teams when necessary and manage deadlines accordingly.
Creating space for self-care signals to staff that overall well-being is as essential as job performance. It’s also a nod to the truth: the daily demands of our work are real, and striking a balance can be difficult. So spend the day paying bills and squeezing in doctor appointments, take a class at the gym, bullet journal a path to future success, or wind down with friends you rarely get the chance to see. When you return to your computer with a renewed sense of determination and drive, the benefits of taking a day will be undeniably clear.
Take a month
In 2017 only 23 percent of employees took their time off, and those who did often kept at least part of their escape on the clock by continuing to answer phone calls and respond to emails. So what happens when you decide to step away—all the way away—from work for an entire month? According to the Harvard Business Review, a month away proves the perfect amount of time to venture to faraway lands, and also to shift focus toward family matters, personal projects, and creative endeavors.
While this might not be possible for those new on the job or just entering the workforce, employees who’ve put in the time over the years may be able to schedule a four-week hiatus from the office with a bit of planning and some pointed conversations.
Start a conversation with your supervisor by keeping the organization in mind, and be sure to mention how an extended departure will benefit both you and the larger team. Go over workflow, projects, and deadlines before charting a plan and scheduling your departure. Then decide how accessible you want to be. It’s easier to negotiate a disconnect when you’re not really cutting the chord. If you can be reached in case of emergency or are still willing to collaborate for a major deadline, a month-long disappearing act might be an easier sell.
You and your boss can also discuss fair compensation and expectations upon return. Having a clear vision for the time away (that may even include organizational goals: think scouting new locations for that summer youth program or fine-tuning your public speaking skills while teaching English abroad) can encourage that stamp of approval.
Take a year (or close to it)
Stepping away for a full 365 can feel like a particularly scary move, but for employees looking to change lanes or shift careers, this break can be a game changer.
Pressing pause in one arena gives you the opportunity to fully explore another without the pressure or expectations of colleagues and deadlines. Whether it’s traveling abroad, working part-time in a new field, or writing that novel you always dreamed of, taking a year off invites growth, challenges, and new direction. Folks who still aren’t sure about cannonballing into the unknown can talk to their boss about the possibility of a six or 12 month approved sabbatical. Sure, these sometimes come with guidelines and fine print, but the opportunities for growth are just as vast.
Of course, you’ll want to be sure to map out your finances in advance and decide whether part-time work will be necessary. Then set intentions, draft a plan, and forge ahead. When the New Year hits, you’ll be ready to re-enter the workforce with stories from your 12 months away to help reframe your life’s passion, professional aspirations and new experiences that can only be attained out of the office.
Whether it’s five minutes or five months, stepping away from work for any amount of time can boost productivity, improve focus and increase job satisfaction. How has taking a break impacted your personal or professional life?