24 February 2011

At The Career Break Site, we're seeing more people over 45 starting to take career breaks. If you're in this age group but not yet retired, this post is for you. We know there are different attitudes, challenges and opportunities for older workers, and we've put together a few tips to get you started on your journey.

Tip 1: Ditch the preconceptions

Plenty of people your age, and older, take career breaks. Right now, there are people in their 80s doing volunteer work in the developing world. One career breaker we know was taught to surf by a man in his 70s. 50-somethings train to be ski instructors every year. Your attitude and fitness are more important than your age.

Tip 2: Think about your strengths

Volunteer organisations are always telling us that older volunteers are more committed to the project - most of you no longer go on all-night benders for one thing! Older career breakers also tend to have more confidence in their abilities than younger people, and of course have more experience to draw on. Many care less about what other people think too, which is a good attitude on a career break.

Projects Abroad Pro volunteer in Cambodia


Tip 3: Find out the company policy on career breaks

Many companies now offer sabbaticals (usually unpaid) so it's a good idea to find out first if you can do this, as in some industries, it can be more difficult to get a job when you're over the age of 45 than under it.

It is worth mentioning that paid sabbaticals are quite unusual, even if you’re not being paid your full salary. They are generally only available to people who’ve been with the company for a long time. Even for an unpaid sabbatical, most companies require you to have been working there for at least 2 years.

Projects Abroad Pro volunteer in Bolivia


Tip 4: Sort out your pension

Pensions are the key practical difference between older and younger career breakers, simply because you have less time to make up any shortfall. You can make voluntary National Insurance contributions - visit this page of the HMRC website for more information.

If you're taking a sabbatical, ensure you can rejoin the company pension scheme when you return. Decide whether to freeze or reduce payments while on your career break (if you can), or to carry on paying into it.

Tip 5: Hook up with some people your own age

This isn't always a big deal for career breakers in their 40s, 50s and older, but it is for some. Many find they have a better experience if there's at least one person in their age group on their course, tour or volunteer project, not because they don't like youngsters, but simply because we tend to have more in common with our peers.

Tip 6: Go!

Whether this is your first gap year or your tenth, don't put it off any longer! There'll always be reasons not to take a career break, but hopefully, there'll be many more reasons to do it. Good luck!


If you're over-45 and thinking about a career break, have a look at all our available career breaks here. Most of them have no upper age limit.