The pandemic has delivered a career shock to many Australians, says research.
In the weeks before Victoria’s spike in COVID-19 cases, where it felt like Australia had beat the virus and everything was slowly returning to some kind of normal, a friend of mine was feeling pretty optimistic. A freelancer in the performing arts industry, she was out of work during lockdown but as restrictions eased she received several offers.
However, despite her eagerness to accept new work, she decided to put some parameters in place before diving in. She said being essentially unemployed had made her realise how little time she had spent with friends, and not just during lockdown. Before the pandemic she spent almost all weekends working. Looking to her future, she was determined not to repeat this pattern. Her feelings about her career had completely transformed.
The same is true for countless other people.
Vanessa Fajnkind, CEO of Brook Recruitment says many job hunters have spent their time in isolation reevaluating their careers.
“People have come to us and said, ‘Look, I’ve had a bit of mental breakthrough in where my career is going.’ I thought with COVID-19 we would see people being a lot more desperate, but candidates still have a lot of integrity about what they’re looking for.
“We’ve had candidates knock back really good job offers and we’re sitting there thinking, what? In COVID?”
COVID-19 and career shock
Fajnkind’s observation is backed up by the data. Research shows the pandemic has been a career shock to many.
In a recent paper published in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour, The Covid-19 crisis as a career shock: Implications for careers and vocational behavior, researchers define career shock as a “disruptive and extraordinary event that is, at least to some degree, caused by factors outside the focal individual’s control and that triggers a deliberate thought process concerning one’s career.”
Career shock can be a positive experience, for example, a sudden pay raise or promotion. However, they are more typically negative. A negative career shock can range from the rather benign (such as a treasured mentor leaving your organisation) to the catastrophic (such as a natural disaster).
Pretty much everyone would agree that COVID-19 is a “disruptive and extraordinary event”, and it certainly has had an impact on a lot of careers.
According to the ING Future Focus Report over three million Australians are seeking career changes post-COVID. In the report, conducted by YouGov in April this year, a third of respondents said they were looking for a new job – even though an almost equal amount think jobs will be tough to come by. It appears younger people are the most likely to be affected, with almost half of the millennial respondents saying they will be looking for a new job.
Only 17 per cent of respondents say they are looking to change career paths completely. But, at almost one-fifth of those surveyed, this is still quite a sizable minority.
Some (15 per cent) are feeling a lack of security in their current roles, so it’s not surprising that 12 per cent are considering a career in an “essential service”.
Australians aren’t the only ones reconsidering their careers. A study commissioned by UK company PeopleCert found more than a third of respondents are doing the same post-COVID. And researchers in Belgium found half their subjects are reevaluating their work-related priorities and will place more emphasis on work-life balance in future job searches.
What can we learn from career shock
In the Journal of Vocational Behaviour paper, the researchers outline three main lessons on career shock.
The first lesson is fairly straightforward: the context of career shock matters because it often determines how people will react to it.
If someone loses their job due to COVID-19, there is likely to be a sense of understanding from that person’s support network and potential employers. However, if the career shock is caused by the individual the reaction from others will be less supportive.
It also matters how the person responds to the shock. If they use their time to retrain or upskill they stand a better chance at weathering the crisis.
The second lesson is that career shocks can have short and long term impacts. For example, working from home has had short term positive impacts for some workers. But the long term impacts of social distancing can negatively impact a person’s psyche so there could be some rather serious consequences down the line.
Lastly, researchers say negative career shocks can be positive in the long run. A job loss might allow individuals to explore a career they hadn’t considered beforehand. They refer to other research which found that “negative life events, such as death or sickness in the family, can create a re-evaluation of career aspirations leading to more positive life decisions.”
So though COVID-19 has had a negative impact on millions of jobs, if we use this time to reflect on what we truly want – both as individuals and as a society – it could be the catalyst for a brighter future.
AHRI is seeking insights into the impact of the pandemic with the COVID-19 Culture survey Take the survey to add your voice.