Four Degrees of Job Separation

Taking a break between UX design jobs

This article is the written version of my YouTube video. Watch it if you’re interested in beautiful Aotearoa New Zealand nature clips.

I understand that taking time off between jobs is not always possible or feasible for everyone, but if you have the financial means to do so, I strongly advise you to do so.

I just recently started a new job and I had a chance to take one month off between jobs I need to say that it was absolutely worth it. This article is about how I did it, and how you can do it too.

If you read advice online then it always says that you always need to be on, you always need to be in a job. Some articles even suggest having a break in your resume might even hurt your professional career.

I believe that in 2022, you can always explain why you had to take a leave of absence, and it is perfectly acceptable to have one month off between jobs on your resume.

Why it’s important to take a break

When I work at least 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 50 weeks a year, I find it extremely difficult to be mentally healthy.

When will we be able to recharge and decompress properly? We really don’t have that much time. If you are allowed to take unpaid leave, you may have four weeks off, but otherwise, we simply don’t have enough time.

As I mentioned, I started a new job as a UX architect in mid-January this year and took four weeks off between jobs. Technically, I was still employed with my previous employer in January, but in reality, I only had to go back for a day to sort out administrative things, but I was on vacation from mid-December.

What happened is: I took two weeks of paid leave and two weeks of unpaid leave, and of course, I had to work harder before I went on leave. Because I needed to hand over the projects in such a way that they could work without me in my absence and when I was no longer in my job, so that was a short-term trade-off.

So, regardless of what happened at work, even if you leave on good terms, things may be a little fishy in the end because, let’s face it, there is always a reason why you leave a job. I believe it is always important to maintain a professional demeanour because you never know when you will see these people again. And, no, we don’t need to send meaningless goodbye emails to everyone…you know the ones: ‘I had such a pleasure working here blah-blah-blah…keep in touch’. Unless, of course, you want to.

Especially important here in Wellington, New Zealand, where everyone knows everyone, you can easily build but also ruin your reputation.

How to negotiate time off between jobs — how I did it

#1 — Check contract

Check your contract to see what it says about leaves. For example, where I worked, I was legally entitled to tell my employer when I want to take 50% of my annual leave, and they can’t object.

I was able to leverage the mandatory summer break in the office. How?

Because I took leave during the summer break period, which is Christmas time in New Zealand, I was able to tell my employer, who asked me to take a mandatory few days off for summer break, that I wanted to take extra five days as well.

So, that’s one thing you should check your contract to see what it says. Before you sign your contract, you need to know what you are legally required to do or can do if you want to take a leave.

#2 — Negotiate start date

I negotiated the other end with my new employer as well. This is something I’d recommend you to do too. You can tell them, “Hey, I need to be here and there, or you already have a booked holiday, or you just gotta take care of something.”

It also helps if you have already made some commitments, so it can help your start date negotiation.

You aren’t there yet, but they are very happy to have someone on board, so I find it much easier to negotiate the new job’s starting date than it is to negotiate to take some time off from your previous job.

The trick I use is instead of asking when they want me to start, I say when I could start, which is a different kind of conversation. It’s ok to drive the conversation.

Every new employer wants you to start as soon as possible. But I find that the jobs and the work aren’t that urgent. Nothing will happen if you start a week later than they want you to.

Another tip I have is to simply tell your new employer that you worked extremely hard in your previous job and that you are eager to give your all in your new position. So having the time to properly decompress, reflect on your previous job, and mentally prepare for the new job would be extremely beneficial. I believe this is perfectly reasonable, and all employers want you to be there 100 percent when you start a new job, so they’re not going to say no to that.

Working in tech as a designer, or really anyone working in tech, we all know that this is such a fast-paced environment. During the pandemic, most people have developed meeting fatigue. I find that when I talk to my friends here, everyone is looking for some time off to decompress and really reflect on things, and just being properly offline — if this is even possible.

Being offline and taking a break was really important to me because I felt I was overworked in my previous job. I had a lot of extra responsibilities and I just really needed that time off. I definitely had meeting fatigue and a lot of stress from projects that I just didn’t really have time to deal with or reflect on. It was always in the ‘deliver deliver deliver’ mode. Every week. Every sprint. I could just never catch up. However, I felt I needed a few weeks to really assess how I’m going to conduct my professional life and how I’m going to lead my projects and do my work.

4 degrees of separation

Week 1

Realistically, when you take some time off between jobs, in the first week I was still thinking about my job. I couldn’t detach myself from it.

Week 2

In the second week, I just started to enjoy this freedom and began to think less about my previous job.

Week 3

The third week was the time when I was able to properly detach myself from my previous job. We went on a road trip so I wasn’t even in my regular Wellington environment anymore. The new scenery really gave me the final push that I was really in holiday mode and I actually didn’t have that previous job anymore.

It was a time when I could really focus on things I enjoyed outside of my professional life. I was really offline. I was also absent on social media. It was the time to enjoy New Zealand, our road trip, eating good food, and not really worrying about anything.

Week 4

In the fourth week, I was finally ready to reflect on my previous job. Because I didn’t have those emotions that I had when I left the job.

I did a retrospective. I assessed what I could have done differently and what I would like to keep when I go into my new job. What are the things that I should stop doing because it just didn’t work in the tech industry. It was a great reflection time for me.

By the way, you don’t have to wait until you start a new job to do this type of reflection. You can do it at any time, such as at the end of the week on Friday. Go through what happened that week and what you should keep and what you should remove from your professional persona.

The other thing I did in week four was to plan out my goals for my new job for the next 90 days. So I was mentally preparing for my start date.

Was it worth it?

Yes, it was absolutely worth it.

I think it’s really important to be or at least try to be disconnected during the time off.

It’s great if you can discover new things or immerse yourself in your hobbies. Even spending some time with your family, pets, and friends can do wonders for your mental health.

I know different countries have different vacation times so in New Zealand we are really lucky with our 20–21 days. I wonder how you do this? Do you take time off between jobs? How much time is enough to decompress?