Having worked in engineering for nine years following my graduation, I got sick after surgery almost two years ago. The disease mainly affected my ability to concentrate and think. I’ve been fighting hard to get back, but only after the company doctor had cleared me by checking that my blood values were good.
I went back to work a few months ago. I started at my old level, but I soon realized that my head wasn’t cooperating. In consultation with the company doctor, the level was adjusted. I was given some simple tasks for two hours a week, after which my working hours were gradually extended. A few months in, I noticed I was getting better and I put in several requests to raise the level of work as well. But my employer and occupational therapist insisted to keep building up the hours first.
Recently, I inquired about my company’s future intentions with me. After two years of illness, you can be fired, but you can also remain employed under other conditions. Much to my dismay, I was told that I no longer fit within the company because my level doesn’t match existing positions. The company doctor then recommended building up the level instead of the hours, but my employer ignored his advice.
The past two years have been really hard. Every step forward, both in recovery and work, pushed me further out of my comfort zone. The Covid pandemic didn’t help, my children being home all the time and health care being almost completely closed. Due to all the tensions, I’m currently completely incapacitated for work again.
That’s why I’m thinking about taking a one-year break after my contract ends. Will it be difficult to find a job after the break? How can I best explain the ‘gap’ in my resume? I get very diffuse reactions when I tell about my plans to take a break, which makes me insecure about the consequences of a sabbatical. Some say I’ll be right back to work, others say I’ll never work again. Maybe after the sabbatical, I can start as a volunteer and build up the hours that way, and then look for positions at my old level.
The headhunter answers:
If I understand correctly, you’re only in the first months of your reintegration, and things aren’t going fast enough for your employer. It’s a shame when companies pull the plug like this. Your dismissal will probably be approved by official bodies, presumably with a wage penalty for your employer for failing to cooperate with the reintegration. You’ll then remain in service while the (procedural) errors are being repaired. After that, you’ll receive an unemployment or disability benefit.
I think a time-out is a good idea. You haven’t yet recovered from your illness in terms of energy, emotional stability and perhaps other aspects as well. Taking a sabbatical will give you more time to get back on your feet, and more time with your family and your small children. It will also allow you to find out what you want to do next.
To your question about the ‘gap’ in your resume: I wouldn’t worry about that. There’s a structural shortage of engineers in your specialism and I don’t expect this to change anytime soon. You’re not the first to take a sabbatical and you have a good reason for it.
A final note for completeness. Due to your health situation, you’re suffering an income loss. I gather your symptoms started after an operation and they’re not an expected consequence of the procedure. Perhaps the surgeon is medically liable. It seems reasonable to look into this.