For many people, the pandemic provided an opportunity to reassess their life priorities, driving what is now widely referred to as the Great Resignation.
It’s a social trend that may now be losing steam, especially as tougher economic conditions bite, with a July survey from job search portal Joblist suggesting that one in four Americans regret quitting their jobs.
Still, many of those who took a bold leap into the unknown are thriving: evidence that a well-targeted pivot, drawing on an individual’s existing skills, can pay off handsomely.
Take Hamish Ta-me.
Ta-me, from Bowral in New South Wales, had worked as a commercial photographer and in digital marketing. He felt the need for a change.
“COVID brought to a head some dissatisfaction and existential angst about what it meant to work in an office behind a computer and the influence that has on your happiness and enjoyment of life and interaction with your family and kids.”
When the pandemic hit, Ta-me decided to turn his hobby of beekeeping into a business. He listed visiting his bees on Airbnb Experiences.
“Overnight I was booked out - I had to buy some more (protective) suits. Every time I listed a day it got booked out.”
The border closures meant people in NSW couldn’t travel interstate, which turned out to be a strong driver for his business.
“Suddenly they were looking for interesting and genuine experiences and people were going to the regions.”
Ta-me would book groups of six or eight who each paid $100 to visit the five hives in his backyard. “I’d show them the hives, put on a morning tea and talk them through the life cycle of a colony.”
As it grew in popularity he leased a large block of land and built “teaching apiaries”. Bowralbeekeeping.com is now his main focus.
The pandemic provided the opportunity to reassess what was important in life, Ta-me says. And while his career switch might sound extreme, he’s been able to use the skills he already had.
“The current role brings together everything I’ve done in my former life: digital marketing, photography and video, writing, organizational skills and teaching.”
For Wendy Robertson, the pandemic forced change upon her, and she hasn’t looked back.
She had been building up a business which relied on in-person conferences and events for its revenue. COVID hit just as she was about to launch.
“My little business was dead on arrival,” Robertson says.
Instead, she pivoted to set up B2B Social Nexus, a marketing consultancy offering personal branding and digital presence.
“It felt like there was a real appetite for those services at a time when people weren’t able to network and connect at physical conferences and events,” she says.
“I discovered I’ve got really fantastic skills that are sought after by lots of different clients, and I am able to translate those skills across a range of industry verticals,” she says.
“It’s been the best thing I’ve ever done and I’m absolutely loving it.”
Richard Tourino had worked for 12 years at car share service GoGet before the pandemic prompted a reset.
“It took the world ending before I would leave GoGet,” he jokes.
In lockdown, Tourino reflected on the need for his work life to have real purpose. His light-bulb moment came when he ordered a fruit and vegetable box to be delivered and wondered why the produce needed to be “perfect”.
“A lot of produce is thrown out because it’s weirdly-shaped or too small or too large,” he says. “Why couldn’t this box be full of that? Most people don’t care if a cucumber is too curly, they care how it tastes.”
Tourino went to the markets and spoke to growers about accessing less-than-perfect produce. He started buying in small quantities, first setting up in his living room before hiring a storage unit to pack the boxes.
The lockdown in Sydney in July 2021 turbo-charged the business, Tourino says. Good and Fugly, which now operates out of a warehouse in Alexandria in Sydney with a staff of 10, has sold 40,000 boxes.
In Australia, 7.6 million tonnes of food is thrown out every year, according to food charity OzHarvest, much of which ends up in landfill. It’s also a waste of the land, water and energy used to produce it.
And with hunger still a pressing issue in many parts of the world, we have a moral obligation to tackle the issue, Tourino says.
On a personal level, the pandemic gave Tourino the space he needed to discover what was important to him.
“I’d always wanted to set up my own business and put the things I’d learned over my career in place. COVID gave me the breathing room to do that.”
Tourino is not alone in wanting to find more meaning in work, but quitting a well-paid job is not an option for everyone.
While the pandemic led to a broad re-evaluation of work and its place in our lives, it’s also given employees more power to push for change in their current workplace, says Ben Hamer, head of Future of Work at PwC.
“Border closures and a range of other factors was a key driver towards having an historically low unemployment rate,” he says.
"When you have low unemployment that’s when power shifts from the employer to the employee. Employees have much more opportunity in the market so they can quit to get more pay or better conditions or whatever else they might need."