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High-fliers put careers on hold to travel the world


An increasing number of high­flying workers are taking time out from the rat race to travel the world. Eight out of 10 top City firms sur­veyed in an Evening Standard straw poll offered sabbatical schemes allowing staff to take between two months and two years off to broaden their horizons before returning to work.

Thousands of employees are jumping at the chance to travel, work for a charity or just take time out. Recent research by insurance company Norwich Union found that 25 per cent of the country’s work­force were dreaming of taking a sab­batical in the next year. Of those, more women than men — 65 per cent versus 45 per cent — wanted to take a break.

At the Royal Bank of Scotland, the trend is growing: more than 3,600 employees across the company took career breaks in the past year com­pared with 2,334 the year before.

A spokesman said: “Career breaks offer people a chance to pur­sue their personal ambitions without having to compromise their employ­ment status or career ambitions. We want to ensure that we retain the vast knowledge, skills and experience held by our employees and therefore have policies in place that allow peo­ple the flexibility and support to pur­sue their personal goals.”

Most firms demand that staff complete at least two years’ continu­ous service to qualify for a career break.

At insurance company Hiscox, based in Bishopsgate, staff can take a three-month sabbatical after 10 years’ service. Brigit Brown, 40, its marketing project manager, went to work on a turtle conservation project in Costa Rica.

“I loved it,” she said, “I dug up and collected turtle eggs, collected data for the marine biologist, cooked for the other volunteers and released hatchlings into the sea. When I came back, I felt better for the break and it’s nice for a company to do that for its employees.”

Sharon Johnson is a communica­tions designer for Royal Bank of Scotland, where she has worked since she left school at 16. Two years ago, at the age of 33 and after 17 years’ service, she took a life-changing two- month sabbatical to work at the Sepilok orangutan sanctuary in Borneo. She described her sabbatical as a dream that came true. It was a world away from what she does back home and quite a humbling experience.

Ms Johnson, from Kent, got so much out of her trip that another sab­batical is on the cards — this time she will be travelling around New Zealand from the end of September. “My bosses were good enough to let me do it again but I think being at the company for 20 years helped!”

Waitrose personnel manager Kim Bolton, 38, had worked for the John Lewis group for 22 years but felt she had missed out on travelling with friends when they took gap years. Al­though she just started a new role at the company her boss agreed to give her the time off. Ms Bolton and her friend embarked on a world trip stop­ping in Moscow, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bali, Sydney, Hawaii, San Francisco, Las Vegas and New York.

On her return to London, she said she felt like a new person. “I felt very positive going back to work. I had a renewed energy and motivation for a company that had given me the opportunity to see the world.”

What they offer: John Lewis:Staff who have worked for the firm for 5 years can take up to a year off. If they plan to do charity work they may be paid.

M&S: Long-term staff can take up to nine months’ unpaid leave.

Arcadia (clothing retailer): Staff can take from two to 12 monthsof unpaid leave, usually for study,travel or charity work.

BP:No formal sabbatical scheme — but unpaid career breaks from work for up to two years are considered.

Adapted from G. Littlejohn, Evening Standard

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