Millennials shift gears amid the pandemic

With their Yolo mentality heightened by Covid-19, many are re-evaluating their life goals and daring to take risks to pursue their passions or find job fulfillment

More than a decade in the public sector gave Mr Ronald Wan, 38, both job security and a steady pay cheque.

But just a year in the pandemic had him contemplating other career possibilities that were slipping through his fingers.

Managing multiple projects and working late nights had left him feeling physically and mentally exhausted, he said. He craved a change.

Mr Wan, a senior manager of digital communications at Ngee Ann Polytechnic who also did a year-long stint at the Singapore Tourism Board, finally took the plunge in March this year and left for the technology industry.

Now a tech content strategist in the private sector, he says: "I think it's a huge risk that I'm taking, but there's this phrase, right? 'If not now, when?'"

His current role gives him more control of his time and the chance to explore the tech career he has always wanted to try.

Millennials, Mr Wan among them, have been dubbed the "burnout generation".

This has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, as millennials tire of navigating seemingly endless piles of work in a mounting atmosphere of anxiety. With borders shut and leisure travel banned, many have a year's worth of savings and nowhere to go.

The Pew Research Centre defines millennials as the generation born between 1981 and 1996, making the youngest millennials 25 years old and the oldest 40 this year.

The pandemic has caused many of them to re-evaluate their priorities and consider job options that were previously unthinkable.

Some have jettisoned stable corporate roles to pursue their passions full time, while others have jumped ship in search of more fulfilling careers.

In an article published in April this year, The New York Times dubbed this phenomenon the "Yolo economy". Yolo, in millennial parlance, stands for "you only live once". Its critics deem it an excuse for reckless behaviour, but those who embrace it say it means living life to the fullest.


Some called Ms Fiona Loh crazy when she gave up a stable pay cheque during the uncertainty of the pandemic to start a home-baking enterprise in July last year.

The 28-year-old was a bank technology product manager before founding Whiskdom, an online-turned-offline bakery that now churns out around 2,400 baked goods a week, roughly five times more than when she started.

"The pandemic was a period of self-discovery," she says. "It made me slow down and re-evaluate my life, career and goals and how I was going to attain them.

"During this period, I really had the time and space to reignite my passion for baking and felt there was a lot more value in what I was doing."

Human resource (HR) companies The Sunday Times spoke to noted that the pandemic has accelerated certain trends among millennial job-seekers.

Many are now looking for openings in hot-button industries such as social media, e-commerce and cryptocurrency, instead of the traditional retail or logistics industries.

Mr Benny Quek, vice-president of HR management and consulting at Asia-Link, estimates that the number of millennials applying to such trendy industries has increased by 5 to 10 per cent during the pandemic.

They are also taking factors such as work flexibility and environment and interesting job scopes into consideration, he adds.

Ms Jaime Lim, group business leader at PeopleSearch Singapore, says: "Millennials' priorities have always been quite different from those of the generations before them."

This is due to better access to technology and information, which has allowed their job expectations to extend beyond pay packages or career progression, she adds.

"We have noticed among the candidates we meet that, more than ever before, purposeful work is a priority.

"The pandemic has thrown up many issues - for example, public health, environmental sustainability and digital inclusion. Jobs that allow them to directly or indirectly contribute positively to such areas are very much in demand."

When 27-year-old M. Vikneswaran left his job as a journalist in August last year, he did not have a full-time job waiting for him.

Instead, he took a three-month break to do social work - a personal endeavour he found enjoyable and fulfilling - before restarting his job search and deciding to join the healthcare industry.

He says he was looking for better work-life balance and more control of his time, which his current role as a communications executive at Singapore General Hospital affords him.

"This is something I have always wanted to try," he adds. "Working in the healthcare industry hits close to home when your country is going through a pandemic."

Mr M. Vikneswaran, 27, is a former journalist who decided to switch to healthcare, a sector he has always wanted to explore. He is now a communications executive at Singapore General Hospital. ST PHOTOS: ALPHONSUS CHERN, CHONG JUN LIANG PHOTO: M. VIKNESWARAN

Other millennials have seized this moment to head back to school.

In June last year, Ms Sharan Minhas left her job in a branding company after five years. Three months later, she moved halfway across the world during a global crisis to start a Master of Business Administration at the London Business School.

The 29-year-old says she saw the weakened economy as an opportunity to pursue further education since it was "less risky" than finding a new job. "I can't put my life on pause indefinitely. The pandemic isn't just happening to me, it's happening to everyone, so I have to do what's best for me."

The Yolo mentality, while uplifting for millennials, may sound alarm bells for employers.

Mr Quek says: "Companies should be worried about staff retention. The pandemic has expedited different job expectations which many local companies may have problems keeping up with."

He recommends that employers rework salary packages to include flexible benefits such as reimbursement accounts or telework options.

When asked what companies should focus on to retain their employees, he highlights three things that Yolo-ing millennials are likely to appreciate: "Empowerment, flexibility and freedom."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on June 13, 2021, with the headline 'Millennials shift gears amid the pandemic'. Subscribe