The pandemic has had a profound impact on the way we think about work. For some, COVID-19 has been a wake-up call on the importance of a good work-life balance – and whether we should live to work, or vice versa. For others, the crisis has completely transformed what they want to do professionally.
A survey of 2,000 adults last year found that a significant proportion of UK workers are considering a total rethink of what they do for work. In fact, nearly half – 41% – are considering quitting their jobs in order to find more fulfilling work when the worst of COVID-19 is over.
Other research suggests more young people are considering careers in health and the sciences after living through the trauma of the pandemic. A recent survey by the British Science Association revealed that 37% of 14- to 18-year-olds are now more likely to consider a scientific career.
Major life events have always had a notable impact on what we want to do for work. During times of change – and particularly during a global crisis like the pandemic – it’s natural to re-evaluate what we consider important.
“The situation can force us to stop, change our lifestyle or habits. In turn that can suddenly give us space, or more time as in this case, to think about things that we may not have had the space or time to think about previously,” says life and career coach Alana Leggett, a Life Coach Directory Member.
“This can lead us to ponder what we want, what we enjoy and what makes us happy, and also to reflect upon where we are in our journey and what we ultimately want out of our lives,” she says.
“Either we can feel suddenly more grateful for the things we do have, or potentially on the contrary dissatisfied with some elements, now we have had space to properly assess. Work takes up a huge part of our lives, so it’s absolutely natural during times of reflection that work could be one element you begin to reassess.”
When faced with a threat like COVID-19, we tend to put the different facets of our lives into perspective. Not only have we been reminded of our own mortality and that of those around us, the pandemic has shown how quickly our lives can be uprooted and changed forever. This can lead us to make big life changes in response, such as cutting back on our working hours to spend more time with family.
The coronavirus outbreak has also taken our lives out of our hands, leaving many people searching for deeper meaning amid the suffering and chaos. Seeking a new job in health or the sciences may be someone’s way of countering that feeling of helplessness, by living their life with a sense of purpose.
“With a greater focus on general health, mental health and wellbeing and the constant discussion around the virus, it’s natural that this would then influence career decisions or ignite interests in people who feel inspired to understand it better or create positive change,” Leggett says.
“Throughout history we see the popularity of different subjects and disciplines fluctuate and that is often linked to current affairs,” she adds. However, this usually balances out in time and rarely means we are saturated with certain professionals, such as therapists or virologists.
“With a demand currently for professionals in this area, and with this need not going away any time soon, it’s certainly not a bad career path to pursue,” says Leggett. “However, the most important thing to access when embarking on a career should be whether you enjoy it – that should be the deciding factor.”
So what should you do if you're thinking of changing jobs because of the pandemic?
Although it’s a good time to think about what you want from your career, it’s important not to make too many changes at once, advises Leggett. This could be even more unsettling in these challenging times.
“As humans, we don’t particularly like change, so when things are seemingly stable it can be very difficult for us to make transformations or to take risks. Whereas, with so much changing already, it can be a good time to explore a new career, a new role or a new position,” she says. “You may be able to find an opportunity in what may seem an otherwise adverse situation and use this to find new motivation and fuel to pursue a change.”
If you’re thinking about changing jobs, it’s important to assess the elements you don’t like before jumping ship. Evaluate whether these are down to the role itself, or the way in which the role may have had to change due to COVID-19.
If you’re thinking of changing careers completely, for example to pursue a career in healthcare, research what qualifications and experience you need. Work out whether you can afford to do the training and whether you can do it around your current job, so you have an income.
“If you still want to make a change, narrow down your focus around what you enjoy and what skills you possess and start to create a plan you can execute,” says Leggett. “For many industries, recruitment is opening up, so it’s actually a very good time to prioritise yourself and your career.”