Taking a Career Break from Project Management

Project Management Benchmark Report 2017We see people all the time who are looking to return to project management having taken some time out. Often the conversations focus on how to get back in after taking an extended break. That’s another post for another day because the actions or approach you take will largely depend on what it is you’ve been doing in that career break.

And that’s one of the sections in this year’s Project Management Benchmark Report – we wanted to understand what types of career breaks people in project management have – and who takes a career break and for how long etc.

Why is it important?

Because many people who do take a break say they feel fresh and energised – ready to do a better job at managing projects – because we all know that project management as a career can be stressful and demanding sometimes.

We thought you would like to see these insights – whether you’re considering stepping away for a bit and trying something else in your life – or just give you some food for thought for the future.

So let’s have a look – and you can see other insights on this when you download this year’s Project Management Benchmark Report here:

Which practitioners take career breaks?

You might not be surprised to learn that it’s those that have worked in project management for a while that take a career break but overall, only 24% of practitioners have taken a career break of more than three months.

Project Managers top that list – with 32%, followed by Programme Managers at 17% and Consultants at 17%.

So why are they taking a break?

This might surprise you, they just want a well-earned break (32%) and that’s the main reason above travelling (28%), getting educated or self-improvement (23%) and even raising a family (15%)

It seems that project management as a job can have quite a toll on the people who do the role – but remember, only 24% of people take that career break – so do 78% carry on when actually they could probably benefit from taking a step back? 5% of people who did take that break cite health reasons – could they have left a well-earned break for too long?

At the other end of the scale, project practitioners were taking career breaks for other reasons. With the rise of self-builds and TV programmes like Grand Designs, 25% of Project Managers who took a break decided to put their project management skills to another use – building or renovating their own properties. 7% used their project management skills to work for charities in voluntary positions and 2% decided to write it all down – they wrote a book!

So how long do they take a career break for?

The vast majority – 53% – only take a break for 6 months or less. Whatever their reasons for taking the break and the amount of time they want to take away from project management – six months wouldn’t really impact their longer term career in project management – especially if their overall working life in project management has been for a long period.

Organisations, by and large, recognise that people take time out of their careers for a whole host of reasons and as long as the breaks can be explained there is usually no objection. What does make organisations reluctant to hire project practitioners is the amount of time they might have been away.

30% of project practitioners who took a break were away from between 7 and 12 months. That drops to 13% for up to 2 years and 4% for up to 5 years. For these practitioners, it could spell difficulties ahead getting back into the world of work.

work-life-balanceSo do they feel it has impacted their career in some way?

When we asked this question we wanted to know if there had been ANY impact at all – both positive or negative.

48% felt there was no impact on their career – 34% felt there had been an impact and 17% were unsure.

So what kind of impacts were there? Here are some of the positive and negatives that were shared:


  • Time to reflect
  • Time to learn
  • Reduced workload
  • More confident about taking future breaks
  • Came back into work with more energy
  • Came back into work with a fresh perspective
  • Undertake training
  • More confidence in myself
  • Feeling refreshed
  • Organisations seem to like what I did with my career break
  • Prioritising family commitments
  • Earned extra marketable skills
  • New opportunities that weren’t expected
  • Aided in having time to think about career path
  • Good perspective on what’s important, my values and helped reinforce that I could walk away from anything at any time which is a very liberating view


  • Perception that I might not be up to date
  • Perception that a career shouldn’t have a break
  • Organisations think my skills are diminished
  • Reentered the employment market on a lower salary / rate
  • Reentered the employment market at a lower position
  • Lose touch with opportunities
  • You are viewed as someone who doesn’t want to work, little or no sympathy
  • Lose focus
  • Takes several months to get back into the network
  • Difficult to get contracting roles
  • Missing out on promotion


So how about you? We hear work/life balance mentioned a lot – probably we hear it more when times might be tough on a problem project. Is a career break a viable option to kick-start a reasonable work/life balance ratio in your life?

Would you consider a career break?

Why not share your thoughts in the comments below – also take time to download the Report and see what other areas your practitioners are thinking about right now.


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