Taking a leap of faith: People embrace post-pandemic career changes

The header image shows an illustration of a person leaping across a gap.

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Chloe Murray had been a professional dancer for five years before COVID-19 decimated the performing arts industry.

She had travelled the world, wowing audiences at venues as diverse as cruise ships, Disney theme parks and theatres in London’s West End.

“I had just moved to London to be at the heart of the industry when the pandemic hit. It could not have happened at a worst time,” she said. 

After a few months Murray realized she had to find a new job and she wondered whether her theatre skills would be an asset in the corporate world. After all, she was confident, always smiling, used to working in a competitive environment, a team player, thick-skinned and determined.

She has since found a home in the public relations industry working as a PR and content executive for Fox Agency in the U.K. She loves her new job and has no plans to return to dancing.

Murray’s story is inspiring, but not that unusual after what has been a highly disruptive 18 months for everyone.

Recent research by global staffing firm Robert Half reveals that 38% of 2,800 professionals surveyed, feel their career has stalled. That number jumps to 66% among those aged between 18 and 24 years old. 

These figures make sense when you consider that top employees have not been promoted, salaries are static and the opportunity to learn new skills has been limited. Add in furlough schemes, lockdowns and reduced hours and it is understandable why many people are dissatisfied and making some radical career decisions.

Murray had change forced upon her, but for others these unprecedented times have given them the push they needed to switch industries or to follow their dream and set up their own business.

It is important that anyone considering making a major career change does not do so on a whim. Murray was sensible enough to carry out a professional audit on herself and assess how her current skills and experience might be transferrable.

But across the world people are taking a leap of faith and trying something new.

In Los Angeles, Danila Savchenko left Microsoft where he was an account specialist for Bing Ads to set up the natural products business he had always talked about. It is called Purithea and makes a tasty organic nut butter called One Nut. Savchenko is putting his marketing degree to good use.

In New York, Marissa Fernandez saw her job as CMO at golfing entertainment business Drive Shack disappear overnight. With a wealth of experience behind her having previously worked at Procter & Gamble and the NFL, she undertook a few contract roles before changing direction and exploring the professional coaching world.

“When my marketing role was eliminated after years climbing the corporate ladder, I felt lost and empty. My identity and self-worth had been tied up in my career,” said Fernandez. “I spent some months reflecting and during that time I realized that my moments of greatest fulfilment came from developing the talent of others around me. I pursued a coaching certificate at the College of Executive Coaching and realized I had found my new professional calling.”

Elsewhere in the U.S, Justine BaMaung co-founded Etchible during the pandemic while still working as a senior manager at customer experience company ActiveCampaign. The founders’ idea of a functional but decorative dry- erase whiteboard for the home took off as people began working differently. The boards are made from premium Baltic birch ply and durable acrylic, and sales started to rise via markets in the Chicago area. BaMaung is balancing two jobs while she decides her long-term future.

“I’ve always wanted my own business and I work most nights and weekends on Etchible. It was easier when things were still locked down, so now as co-founders we have simplified things and schedule our days off to work on the business,” she said. “We will see where this takes us.”

Many of the new careers launched during or because of the pandemic were started because people were looking for a better work-life balance, a new challenge or to reduce stress in their lives. In many cases, it was now or never.

This is certainly true for U.K.-based Kiran Bhondi who founded wellness brand Osena London which has a range of products based on adaptogenic herbs. His life now is completely different to his pre-pandemic existence within the high-pressured environment of corporate finance.

“The hours were long and the workload exhausting, and this was having a significant impact on my overall health. I was feeling out of sync and completely off-balance with my body,” said Bhondi. “My grandfather grew up in India taking adaptogenic herbs and I thought there is a business here to help other people cope with stress.”

The 25-year-old had been inspired by the entrepreneurs he worked with during his time in corporate finance overseeing mergers and acquisitions. “Quitting a secure job can feel like a huge risk and that you can be swapping one high pressure environment for another. But if you are passionate about something and have control over the hours you put in, it does work,” he said.

3 Questions with Larry Clark, managing director, global learning services, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning 

What are the challenges that people face when returning to the office, in the wake of the last year?
Firstly, dealing with mixed emotions about coming back. A recent survey  revealed that 81% of respondents either don’t want to come back at all or would prefer a hybrid model of work. Of those, 27% hope to remain working remotely full time, while 61% would prefer to work from home two to three days a week. Only 18% want to return to in-person work full time. This data suggests that a majority of employees won’t be thrilled to be back, especially if they are asked to return in person, full-time. Secondly, managing hybrid teams: If your new workplace includes a mix of employees co-located in an office while work remotely, you will face logistical concerns as well as issues of power. You will likely have communication, team engagement, and coordination challenges, and “us vs. them” dynamics and issues of equity often crop up.

Much of the success of these hybrid set-ups will depend on how well managers can handle their teams under the changes, what advice would you give them?
Be transparent about the policies your organization has in place. Surface concerns and share stories, but don’t burden your employees with your own disappointments. If permitted, allow for flexibility in implementing the new policies and discuss options as a team. Above all else, be kind and patient. Offer support to everyone you manage. Work with your team to develop new practices and protocols around communication tools and technologies. Set guidelines around access to information and clarify who needs to be involved in each meeting or decision. Emphasize inclusion and equity. Take action to eliminate the [perception] that those who are in the office are more productive than remote workers.

How should organizations best support managers and employees in general during this phase?
Allow for flexibility at the team level, if possible. Do what you can to ease employees’ transitions back to the office, and give employees time to adapt to their new work environment. Support managers in developing their newly hybrid teams. Understand the new dynamics that may come into place. Be proactive about sharing standards, but allow individual managers to adapt.

By the numbers:

  • Low-productivity employees comprise approximately 10% of any organization. And these low-productivity workers are on average, active for just 90 minutes per day, wasting $48,000 of a $60,000 annual salary.
    [Source of data: Prodoscore data.]
  • 84% of 2,064 U.S. adults intend to continue the enhanced hygiene practices they adopted during the pandemic such as more frequent hand washing and use of hand sanitizer, even as more Americans become vaccinated against COVID-19.
    [Source of data: Essity Return to Workplace report.]
  • 56% of 12,000 professionals who plan to take time off this summer say they’ll fully disconnect from their job while out of the office. Only 26% say they will check their emails at least once a day, compared to 59% who said they did so in the summer of 2019.
    [Source of data: LinkedIn poll.]

What else we’ve covered

  • “There has been a fundamental shift of mindset from companies, from one of owning talent, to wanting access to best-in-class talent”: according to Nicky Badenoch, co-founder of GENIE. We spoke to a range of people about why they have swapped their apartments for campervans and how changing their locations whenever they want, helps fuel their professional creativity.
  • Since vacating their offices in March 2020, media companies’ office returns have been a moving target. Some companies, such as The New York Times and Reuters, had planned to bring back employees in January but pushed back their timelines to this summer as coronavirus cases rose in the fall and early winter. Here’s a look at what media companies are planning.

    This newsletter is edited by Jessica Davies, managing editor, Future of Work.

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