For most Australian workers in 2017 the notion of working the same job for their entire career is something of a bygone relic from a previous generation. The mass casualisation of the workforce on top of fast-changing industry trends and automation means many of us churn through jobs in a way previously unimaginable.
According to recent ABS figures about a third of Australian employees under 34 are employed as casuals, and the average time we spend in one job is just over three years.
But the experience of workers in taking a mid-career break – either voluntarily or after being made redundant – reveals long-term benefits.
For Anna Malos, 50, a project manager for an environmental organisation in Melbourne, the opportunity to take a six-month volunteer post for an NGO in Mozambique was too tempting not to take up. “I picked Mozambique because I love Latin America so wanted to visit Latin Africa,” she told MyCareer.
In Mozambique, Malos helped an environmental organisation put together funding proposals from Western donors. “Working in the developing world is such a good reminder of how different people live,” says Malos. “And it didn’t take too long to get back onto a good career path when I got back.”
For many Australian workers, a restlessness to see the world and to challenge themselves motivates them to take time out from their career.
Lou McGregor, 43, had what many would consider a “dream job” as a digital content producer for a leading Australian NGO. But once she and her partner started discussing the idea of taking off around Australia in a camper-van she decided to take the plunge.
“I’d been working full-time for nearly 15 years and it felt like the right time,” she says. She says the highlights of travelling for 12 months in Australia and overseas included: “getting married, buying a camper, travelling half-way around Australia, visiting Istanbul for the first time, and meeting my first niece Beth.”
McGregor says she picked up some freelance gigs while on the road and has managed to keep them going since.
For many others, taking a break from work is not a choice but something imposed on them. Jim Buckell, 58, a Melbourne editor and facilitator, used the time after being made redundant from a university communications manager role to enhance his skills by taking a year-long course in facilitation and group work.
“I then refocused my career as a freelancer with facilitation as a major plank on top of writing and editing,” he says.
While pursuing his studies he converted a verandah riddled with dry rot into a home office. “I rebuilt my career and the view from my desk got a lot better – overlooking the grevillias in the front yard. It was a win for garden and soul.”
Tim James, managing director of Hays in Victoria, says a mid-career break can be beneficial, as long as you make sure your skills remain relevant.
“That’s why we suggest that, regardless of the reason for your mid-career break, you keep in touch with your industry through LinkedIn, events, webinars, podcasts and industry bodies and continue to upskill in the latest technology,” he says.
“What a lot of people learn from a mid-career break is how to be the most healthy, happy version of themselves. Whether it’s an improved attitude to their health or better work-life balance, they’re often more productive during working hours once they return to work.”