Over a decade in the public sector has given Mr. Ronald Wan, 38, both job security and a regular paycheck.
But just one year of the pandemic got him to consider other career options that were slipping through his fingers.
Managing multiple projects and working late at night had exhausted him both physically and mentally, he said. He was thirsty for change.
Mr Wan, a senior digital communications executive at Ngee Ann Polytechnic who also spent a year at the Singapore Tourism Board, finally took the plunge in March this year and left for the tech industry.
Now a tech content strategist in the private sector, he says, “I think it’s a huge risk I’m taking, but there’s that phrase, isn’t there? ” If not now, when ? “
His current role gives him more control over his time and the chance to explore the tech career he’s always wanted to try.
Millennials, including Mr. Wan, have been dubbed the “burnout generation”.
This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as millennials tire of going through seemingly endless piles of work in an atmosphere of growing anxiety. With borders closed and pleasure travel banned, many have a year of savings and nowhere to go.
The Pew Research Center defines millennials as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, so the youngest millennials are 25 and the oldest 40 this year.
The pandemic has caused many of them to reassess their priorities and consider employment options that were previously unthinkable.
Some have given up stable corporate positions to pursue their passions full time, while others have left the ship in search of more fulfilling careers.
In an article published in April of this year, the New York Times dubbed this phenomenon “the Yolo economy”. Yolo, in the millennial parlance, means “you only live once”. Its detractors see it as an excuse for reckless behavior, but those who adopt it say it means living to the fullest.
Some have called Ms Fiona Loh insane when she gave up a stable paycheck during pandemic uncertainty to start a home bakery business in July of last year.
The 28-year-old was a banking technology product manager before founding Whiskdom, an online bakery that is no longer online and now produces around 2,400 baked goods a week, about five times more than its beginnings.
“The pandemic has been a time of self-discovery,” she says. “It made me slow down and reassess my life, my career and my goals and how I was going to achieve them.
“During that time, I really had the time and space to rekindle my passion for baking and felt that what I was doing was of much more value.”
Human resources (HR) companies polled by The Sunday Times noted that the pandemic has accelerated some trends among millennial job seekers.
Many are now looking for opportunities in hot industries such as social media, e-commerce, and cryptocurrency, instead of the traditional retail or logistics industries.
Mr. Benny Quek, vice president of human resources management and consulting at Asia-Link, estimates that the number of millennials applying to these trendy industries has increased by 5-10% during the pandemic.
They also take into consideration factors such as flexibility and the work environment and attractive job opportunities, he adds.
Ms. Jaime Lim, Group Business Leader at PeopleSearch Singapore, says: “The priorities of Millennials have always been very different from those of previous generations.
This is due to better access to technology and information, which has allowed their professional expectations to extend beyond wages or career progression, she adds.
“We have noticed among the candidates we meet that, more than ever, thoughtful work is a priority.
“The pandemic has raised many issues – for example, public health, environmental sustainability and digital inclusion. Jobs that allow them to directly or indirectly positively contribute to these fields are in high demand.”
When Mr Vikneswaran, 27, quit his job as a journalist in August last year, he had no full-time job waiting for him.
Instead, he took a three-month hiatus from social work – a personal endeavor he found enjoyable and fulfilling – before resuming his job search and deciding to join the healthcare industry.
He says he was looking for a better work-life balance and more control over his time, which is what his current role as a communications manager at Singapore General Hospital gives him.
“It’s something I’ve always wanted to try,” he adds. “Working in the health sector is close to home when your country is going through a pandemic. “
Other millennials took advantage of this moment to go back to school.
In June of last year, Ms. Sharan Minhas quit her job at a branding company after five years. Three months later, she moved halfway around the world during a global crisis to start an MBA at London Business School.
The 29-year-old said she saw the weakening economy as an opportunity to continue her education because it was “less risky” than finding a new job. “I can’t put my life on hold indefinitely. The pandemic doesn’t just happen to me, it happens to everyone, so I have to do what’s best for me.”
The Yolo mindset, while inspiring for millennials, can sound the alarm bells for employers.
Mr Quek said: “Businesses should be concerned about staff retention. The pandemic has accelerated different employment expectations that many local businesses may struggle to keep up with.”
He recommends employers rework salary packages to include flexible benefits such as reimbursement accounts or telecommuting options.
When asked what companies should be focusing on to retain employees, he highlights three things Yolo-ing millennials are likely to enjoy: “Empowerment, flexibility and freedom.”