Leave of absence

Many people dream of a leave of absence: Lotte put her mind to it

One in three IDA members would like to take self-paid leave within the next few years. According to a career counsellor, there are three things you need to have in place if you yourself dream of taking a break from work for a period of time.

A large part of Lotte Bjerre's identity is that she is an engineer.

She has worked for 12 years in the IT company Systematic, which, among other things, develops solutions for the health sector, many of her colleagues are also her friends, and she has always given her work a high priority.

But she is also creatively inclined, loves to draw, write and make ceramics, and the many working hours of a product manager make it difficult for her to immerse herself in her interests.

So, when the spring of 2022 was extraordinarily busy, she started to feel like a "grumpy old person" who had lost her joy in work and was irritated by little things because the work was taking up too much space.

"It's a bit of a cliché, but I think you can distinguish between whether leave is an adventure or an escape. For me it was something in between, because even though I had started to show signs of stress, it was just as much about the fact that I had some dreams that I really wanted to act out", explains Lotte Bjerre.

She considered several solutions to get more free time, including whether she should have a four-day work week, but she was nervous that she would then simply get the same tasks, but now with one less day to solve them.

"I dreamed of a getaway, where I could get away completely and immerse myself in something else for a longer period", explains Lotte Bjerre, who planned to go to a Danish folk high school - højskole - for five months during her leave.

One in three IDA members would like to take leave

Lotte Bjerre is far from the only one who wants a break from working life.

In a questionnaire survey among IDA's members, 31 percent answered that they would like to take a period of self-paid leave of absence during the next 3-5 years. The tendency is particularly pronounced among the 30-39-year-olds, where 36 percent would like to take leave, while the 40-49-year-olds follow closely behind with a share of 35 percent.

Leave from work: Here are the rules and your options

The results of the survey do not surprise Morten Esmann, who is a career counsellor at IDA. He often talks to members who want to take a break from work for a period of time to get a breather or to pursue a personal project.

"Many of us reach a stage of life where we would like to travel or live out another dream while we can, and before we become too established with a house and a car - even if we have small children," says Morten Esmann.

He sees it as a reaction to a work culture that is focused on individual performance and the hunt for status.

"For years we have had a mantra that you are responsible for your own happiness and that you must chase your own ambitions. Therefore, we often end up believing that we absolutely must work hard and invest ourselves and our time in our career in order to have a good life".

"But what many people are discovering is that the return on this investment is not particularly good, because so many of us are affected by stress or regret that we did not prioritise other things than work", explains career counsellor Morten Esmann.

He also points out that there is a great demand for IDA's members, making it less risky to take a complete break from the labour market - either as leave of absence or by resigning from one’s job.

"Even in the most extreme situation, where you quit your job and travel to South America for a year, you will not significantly reduce your job opportunities. As a career counsellor, I’ve definitely noticed that IDA’s members are becoming less worried about their job security", he says.

Worried of being seen as frivolous

For Lotte Bjerre, however, it wasn’t an easy decision to ask her manager for leave.

“I was afraid of disembarking from the career train, which would just keep going while I was on leave. I had read one too many articles about how you should be careful about having gaps in your CV, because it would scare employers away”.

In addition, she was surrounded by ambitious colleagues, and she was nervous that they would perceive her as frivolous or uncommitted when she wanted to go on leave.

“My boss is a workaholic just like me, and I was worried that he would think; she is probably on her way away from Systematic. But I asked him about it afterwards, and he hadn't thought that at all. He just thought that I needed a break and that I should be allowed to take that”.

"So, I was very afraid of other people's reaction, but in reality it was all happening inside me", explains Lotte Bjerre.

When career counsellor Morten Esmann talks to IDA members, he finds that many people share these concerns.

"Many people think deep down, can I really afford it? They want to make a good impression and be good and committed employees because it is important to them, says Morten Esmann.

"But there are also those who are influenced by public debates on work ethic. Recently, some politicians have tried to make it a question of whether you want to help support the welfare state or run off to the Island of Ærø and breed chickens", says Morten Esmann.

He always asks members in doubt the same question if he can sense that they are worried about the reaction of the outside world.

“Have you ever talked to someone about leave where they said it was a bad idea? Or do they rather say something like; I wish I was the one who could take leave?”.

Cheap wine from ceramic cups, hide and seek and snowmen

The Danish Folk High School Højskolen Mors is located in scenic surroundings far away from larger cities, and it is only possible to get there by car.

In that way, it was perfect for Lotte Bjerre, who wanted to completely get away from her everyday life in Aarhus during her leave of absence. At Højskolen Mors, she could immerse herself in their writers' workshop and learn about sustainable agriculture in the school's kitchen garden.

"I wrote short stories and poems, and I spent a lot of time in the garden with my new friends - especially when it was harvest season in the autumn".

"And then going to a folk high school is also a lot of fun. We played hide and seek, built snowmen, played werewolf and drank cheap wine in the cellar", says Lotte Bjerre, who at 37 was among the school's oldest students.

She strove to put the engineering identity aside and enjoy her time at the school, but she didn't always succeed.

“It was hard not to think about what I could use it for afterwards. The young people at the school will become my colleagues, customers or users in the future, which is why I was interested in how they use technology and look at the world", explains Lotte Bjerre, who uses several of her experiences from the folk high school in her work today .

“I think I have learned to adapt to new places and to talk to people I would otherwise never have met. I have learned a lot from getting out of my comfort zone, which I would never have done by sitting in front of the computer at my job”.

"In addition, I have gained more courage and faith in myself from having to throw myself into new things. I actually feel that I have more respect for myself, and I am proud that I dared to stand by my wishes and act on them", says Lotte Bjerre.

Consider your purpose for taking leave

If you are also considering taking leave yourself, there are three things that, according to Morten Esmann, you must clarify first.

"The first thing I ask members is what they want to achieve by taking leave. It doesn't have to be a big life goal that they should develop or learn something they can use in their work. The purpose may be for you to have more energy, some good experiences, or for you to have a breather and get some fresh air", explains Morten Esmann and continues:

"When I ask about this, it is because we have seen examples of some taking a break and then spending all the time on the sofa streaming Netflix shows. If that is your purpose, then knock yourself out, but most people want to have the feeling that they have used their time wisely and achieved something", says Morten Esmann.

The second thing that needs to be sorted out is whether your financial situation can withstand a period without salary. However, he finds that the vast majority of members he talks to about leave already have an overview of the costs of taking leave.

A final and unavoidable condition for you to be able to take leave is, of course, that you can agree this with your employer if you do not wish to resign.

Morten Esmann's advice is to have a plan B if your employer's first reaction is a refusal.

"You have to try to find out if it can be done under other conditions, so that you don't run the risk of it being a hard no. Ask what the reason is, what circumstances are needed for you to take leave, and whether you can do something yourself to get there".

In addition, you must make a plan for how insisting you are willing to be about your desire to take leave.

"The further you are willing to go if you get a no, the more direct you can be with your employer. But if you say that you won't accept a no, you must also be absolutely sure that you are willing to take the consequences and resign, and after all, very few people are."

Lotte Bjerre hopes that more employers will open their eyes to the fact that leave is not just an unproductive break, but that it is in fact an opportunity for employees to develop personally and professionally in a completely different way in everyday life.

She herself has planned a "miniature leave" of two months this summer, of which one month is self-paid holiday.

"I have thrown myself into portrait painting, so I have to spend time doing that, and then I have to build a raised bed where I can have a vegetable garden according to the sustainable principles I learned at the folk high school. The raised bed is also a project I would like to tackle because I want to learn how to use tools".