The future of work is... to take breaks throughout your career

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 6 October 2016
Peter Cosgrove
Issues covered:

Sounds good doesn’t it? Imagine deciding (as opposed to being forced) to take a 6 month break. Why, you ask? 

With such great improvements in life expectancy, we are going to live and therefore work longer. Lynda Gratton in her book The 100 Year Life, highlights that although people are currently retiring at 65, this number could move closer to 83 as we start living longer. This is certainly not what a lot if people want to hear as they feel somewhat deflated, but that is only if you don’t enjoy what you do. However, even if you love your job, it still is a very long stretch of time to be working without breaks. 

What are the benefits of taking extended breaks?

Travel broadens the mind: Not working gives you more time to look up and around you. The designer, Stefan Sagmeister, realised that we spend roughly 20 to 25 years living and learning, 45 years working, and 20 years retired, so he interspersed a retirement year every 7 into his life. However, while he may not have been working, he was interacting with new people and experiencing new things that would help him when he was back working, feeling refreshed and energised. So his year off provided him with his ideas for the next seven years.

Our network: We surround ourselves with similar people: Look at your network – we don’t change because often no one around us changes. If you play golf, they say you regularly play with people who are a similar handicap to you. In the book Dream On, a tale of one man’s quest to become a zero handicapper, he realised he needed to start playing with better golfers if only because his own friends were very negative against what he wanted to do and were getting annoyed by his improvements! To be more creative, we need to interact with people with very different viewpoints to our own.

Retirement as a concept: The two biggest factors in human mortality are birth and retirement! So why aim for retirement. Retirement planning can viewed like life insurance i.e. as only the worst case scenario, as it is assuming that you dislike what you are doing during the most physically capable years of your life. It is certainly not worth spending your most able years working in a job you hate. On the converse side, if you are resourceful and hardworking, within one week of retiring  you will want to do something and you will end up working again – which defeats the purpose of retirement! Dan Buettner, in his book Blue Zones, talks of a particular place Okinawa where they have some of the longest life expectancies in the world. The Okinawan language has no word for retirement. Instead, they live their life by ikigai. Roughly translated, this means “the reason for which you wake up in the morning”. They say that living with purpose is what matters, and not breaking your life up to work and non-work phases.

We see professional services firms giving long-term partners a 4 month sabbatical and making it mandatory. This is as much of a benefit to the company as it is to the employee – you get back a refreshed, rested, and enthusiastic employee with new ideas, and new ways of thinking. Who does not need that in today’s fast moving world?

 So next time you hear some student talking of a gap year, take a moment to think about where you would go. And then ask yourself “Why not?”

Peter Cosgrove set up the Future of Work Institute in Ireland and has written a paper “A Rested Worker is a Productive Worker”. You can read more about this at

This article is correct at 06/10/2016

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Peter Cosgrove

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