Planning Some Time Off Work? Join the Club

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Why you should care

Because career breaks are not all Euro trips and boozy brunches.

Welcome to Number Crunching With OZY. In this occasional series, we ask businesspeople, experts, celebrities and thought leaders to discuss a single number that is most important to them. This time: Addie Swartz, founder and CEO of ReacHIRE.

Where is your career going to be in 15 years? What a marvelous question, because, sure, we all know exactly what we’ll want to do (or have to do) at a totally different stage of life, right?! Well, it seems that despite all the uncertainty, young people are in agreement on one thing: At some point in their working lives, they’re going to park the whole “working” part of it and take some time off. In fact, according to recent research from multinational staffing firm ManpowerGroup:

84 percent of millennials plan to take a significant career break at some point in their lives.

And, unlike previous generations, time off is no longer a hurdle that childcaring women alone are having to jump over. While women still expect to take career breaks for childcare in greater numbers than men (one in three millennial women versus one in five millennial men), as with, to a lesser degree, caring for elderly relatives (30 percent of women and 25 percent of men), millennials in roughly equal numbers plan to take time off work for self-care — anything from travel to hobbies to education, says Sunny Ackerman, vice president and general manager of ManpowerGroup.

In general, millennials are “less interested in climbing the corporate ladder” than their parents were, says Ackerman. Addie Swartz, founder and CEO of ReacHIRE, a company that seeks to help women return to work after career breaks, cites research that shows millennials’ radically different attitudes toward career as the most important stat shaping her approach to the future of work.

Career breaks often snowball into much longer periods of time off than initially expected.

While the ManpowerGroup research itself didn’t compare this to previous generations, these are “greater numbers than we’ve ever seen before,” says Carol Fishman Cohen, CEO of career reentry firm iRelaunch, and are substantially more gender-balanced than the demographics that currently attend her company’s career-relaunch conferences, which are consistently more than 90 percent female.

So what will be the impact of these break-hungry millennials? “There are a lot of challenges when you try to reenter the workforce after a career break,” says Swartz, not least of which is getting a new job in the first place: Many applicant-tracking systems screen out résumés with substantial gaps in experience.

Plus, keeping current with skills and technology while you’re away seeing the world or looking after a child can be challenging — many standard pieces of workplace software didn’t even exist five years ago, including Slack and Google Hangout. So companies need to invest in “off-ramps and on-ramps,” says Swartz, everything from helping workers leaving the organization to stay in touch to offering programs to re-skill returning employees. Meanwhile, workers need to document their current work experiences in anticipation of tricky “what was your biggest success on that team back in 2008?”–type of questions, as well as nurture relationships with those junior to them, not just those above, says Cohen.

And while the ManpowerGroup study takes quite a broad view of what constitutes “significant” time off — everything from four weeks up — previous research from author Lisen Stromberg has shown that career breaks often snowball into much longer periods of time off than initially expected, with caring for one child often turning into two, then turning into caring for elderly parents.

So, for all you millennials planning your time away from the desk — and, yes, it seems like that’s basically all of you — remember it’s not all Euro trips and boozy brunches. There’s a fair few dirty diapers and tricky job applications thrown in there too.

Text by James Watkins; video by Kevin O’Dowd


Numbers and factoids — fodder for your next cocktail party.