Take a career break

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In a bid to cut costs many firms are offering their employees the option of a career break. Recently, BT offered its staff cash incentives to take career breaks rather than face redundancy. Many companies are facing similar decisions because of a fall in profits. This not only saves the company money but will provide the employee with a rare opportunity to learn new skills, study or start a new career.

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  6. Volunteer work in Africa
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A recent survey found that 66 per cent of workers would quit their job for £ 5000 in cash. Many workers, particularly those in the capital, would take a pay cut in order not to have to commute. This reflects not just a dissatisfaction with work but a change in attitude to the notion of a job for life.

Even before the economic gloom descended, many firms had come to realise the merit in allowing staff a sabbatical. Companies like Tesco, The Post Office, Prudential, American Express all have career break policies. If you work for a smaller firm then why not ask your employer if they will consider it?

There are savings to be made and most organisations will see the advantages of retaining good staff in the long term. From an employer's perspective they can expect to see you return refreshed, motivated and with additional skills and experiences to bring to the table.

The career break can come in a range of packages and it may come down to how you negotiate the deal with your boss. Most companies will consider unpaid leave but others will have a policy in place whereby you get paid a percentage of your salary or money towards your bills like mortgage and rent. Some companies, like Accenture and Shell have business partnerships with the Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO).

So you have decided to take a break, what next?

Working overseas for a charity is a popular choice. The VSO has seen inquiries double recently but don't let this put you off. There are plenty of other organisations like Action for Children or Challenges Worldwide that will organise a placement for you. You need to bear in mind they will be looking for all kinds of skills from languages to medicine and you may have to raise funds to cover some of your costs. Placements can take some time to organise so make sure you plan ahead.

Volunteering is not your only option, how about travel or learning a language? There are plenty of ways to make the most of your time out. You could think about teaching English abroad or working on a conservation project.

If you don't want to travel there are plenty of organisations, like the Winston Churchill Project, who will be happy to recruit you for a project nearer to home. You may just want time to take stock and reflect but remember, selling the idea to your employer may mean showing how the break will work for both of you.

It's worth checking the terms on which your break has been granted. Will you have a job to return to or just pay and conditions? Many firms encourage shorter sabbaticals which are more manageable in terms of finance yet still offer a much needed opportunity to try something different. You can negotiate taking all your leave in one go with the addition of some unpaid knowing you have a job to return to.