The Pandemic Career Break
Josephine Simone, Doctor of Business Administration candidate, Victoria University, is conducting a doctoral study in the career breaks of women in STEM and has written this article with Dr Selvi Kannan, Academic & Course Chair Management & Innovation, Victoria University.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a disruptor to organisations and workplaces, seeing many workers forced into a break, interrupting their careers. This “pandemic career break” is unchartered territory for many workers and different to the traditional career break. In the traditional form, a career break relates to an individual taking a planned or unplanned break from the workforce with the intention of returning. Some workers will return with the same employer and others with a new employer. This time spent away impacts on an individual’s professional and personal circumstances. Preservation of skillsets, knowledge and experience whilst spending time away from the workforce is imperative. The CIPD Good Work Index UK provides valuable insight into jobs and people’s experiences of work, informing the actions of workers, employers and policy makers to help address quality of life and work.
The pandemic career break highlights the predicament that many workers currently find themselves in, either due to their jobs being put into temporary hibernation or having lost their jobs. Many workers are also being given little notice to prepare for this break in their career. While the traditional career break is often associated with the female gender for reasons of family and more recently males when going on parental leave, the pandemic is seeing many men and women experiencing a career break for the first time in their lives without being able to exercise their choice. A pandemic career break can be considered as a career shock to many workers. However, a recent article in the Journal of Vocational Behavior, “The Covid-19 crisis as a career shock: Implications for careers and vocational behavior”, highlighted that negative career shocks can in fact lead to positive career outcomes, with employees engaging in positive self-reflection to deal with a situation that is beyond their control.
This pandemic career break can also be considered a positive challenge for those who wish to undertake a job rejuvenation. The Journal of Vocational Behavior published another recent journal article, "How being in learning mode may enable a sustainable career across the lifespan”. This article proposes “learning mode” as a career meta-competency to help address career challenges and to construct a sustainable career. This learning mode is based on an individual’s approach, action and reflection towards a growth mindset. The pandemic career break could be a time for workers to embrace change that could involve reskilling and upskilling. While it is difficult to predict how jobs will evolve, Accenture’s 2019 Technology Vision report identifies dominant features of work in the digital economy which will assist employees to rejuvenate with these thought patterns.
Embarking on this change needs an action plan that will positively challenge the worker to return with a new or even a unique set of skills. In fact, the pandemic has brought drastic changes that can allow worker to engage more in remote ways of working and learning. Depending on how organisations pivot post pandemic, the prospect of alternative career paths is also a very real possibility for a worker to explore.
Finally, in the revitalisation space, this down time can be an opportunity for the worker to indulge in their own wellness. It is evident that that the health and wellbeing of workers during this pandemic presents challenges like never before. The restriction measures in this pandemic have created a unique situation for each worker. They face new challenges, complicated by the substantial loss of normal social networks and connections and with the reliance on virtual constructions. These circumstances are beyond the control of the worker along with the heightened prospect of a job loss. Given the weight of these changes, focusing on health and mental wellbeing during this pandemic career break, would be an ideal strategy for both workers and organisations. With organisational support, creating a health regime for the welfare of the worker, not only helps maintain an important link, but could possibly forge stronger ties between workers and their organisations.
Unconventional as it may seem, this is a time for leaders in organisations to think about this pandemic career break and how they can develop pathways to connect with their workers and enable them to reflect, rejuvenate and revitalise.