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“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories

The Great Resignation

Text: Natalie Khoo

Image: Getty Images

Have you noticed your circle of friends quitting their jobs left, right, and centre? We did—so we asked Malaysians of varying backgrounds why they took the plunge despite the challenging times

An estimated 156,000 Malaysians have lost their jobs over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic. Unemployment rates soared to 4.8 per cent in June this year—the highest in three decades, according to the Department of Statistics Malaysia.

Yet, I realised that many of my friends and acquaintances were quitting their jobs. Some even shifted into a different industry altogether or started their own business. It’s not just my circle, from what I gathered over work events, casual catchups, and the news—I’m sure you know a handful of people who have left their jobs in search of new opportunities, too.

This phenomenon isn’t exclusive to Malaysia. A quick Google search on “The Great Resignation” (yes, economists have given it a name) will produce an extensive list of articles on how and why Americans are quitting their jobs. In terms of numbers, a record 4.4 million people—or three per cent of the US workforce—resigned in September 2021 alone.

But back to Malaysia, a local survey by Employment Hero found that 61 per cent of employees plan to find a new job within the next year. The study, which polled 1,004 people, revealed that younger employees aged 35 and below are among the most prepared to move on from their current workplaces. However, a majority of these employees actually like (45 per cent) or even love (24 per cent) their jobs, suggesting that the work itself may not be the issue. 

Instead, the top reasons for leaving their jobs are largely related to pay cuts and career development. To affirm this, I asked eight Malaysians of varying backgrounds about their career-changing experience. Here’s what they had to say:

Poh Nee, 32

Former Lifestyle Editor turned B2B Marketing Writer

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 1)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

I had been working in the same industry for 10 years and wasn’t seeing any future growth prospects. Hence I decided to bite the bullet, leave my comfort zone, and venture into a different industry. In some ways, the pandemic did affect my decision. The pandemic threatened an already shaky industry, and pay cuts were not helping my cause. As the sole breadwinner of my family, I needed job stability, which was another reason why I decided to try something new.

How different is your current job scope compared to before?

It’s quite different. Although the core of what I’m doing remains the same, i.e. writing, I need to understand a lot of marketing industry jargons. While previously I’ve always been writing more fanciful, lifestyle articles, I now have to tune my writing style into something more corporate. It’s a funny feeling to have to unlearn and relearn something in my 30s, but I’m happy to report that you can teach an old dog new tricks.

How do you feel about your decision so far?

I don’t regret making the change, although I definitely miss how comfortable I was in my previous job.

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 2)

Tuck Leong, 31

Former Project Architect turned Designer/Tutor

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 3)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

Frankly, it was quite a risky move. Due to the pandemic, many projects from my previous company were affected, and by no choice my pay was cut by 60 per cent. Hence I needed to seek ways to maintain my current commitments and lifestyle by looking for other opportunities.

How different is your current job scope compared to before?

The biggest difference would be the flexibility. I don’t find myself trapped in an office working on a fix schedule anymore, and that has opened up opportunities for me to venture into education, photography, and other design jobs. With that being said, my monthly earnings became quite inconsistent compared to my previous job, but I see that as a practice to balance between my work schedule, rest time, and other important things in life. Managing my work-life-balance, so to speak.

How do you feel about your decision so far (did it satisfy your reasons for quitting)?

It is pretty satisfying when you can enjoy breaks on a weekday (especially to avoid crowds during lockdowns). I would say the decision carves a more challenging but fun career path of becoming your own boss and micro-managing every detail. And I did observe myself growing and learning new things from it—that’s what matters after all.

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 4)

Adila Khairul, 32

Former Business Analyst turned IT Business Analyst

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 5)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

No doubt, working from home during the pandemic added more pressure at work. We were working early mornings, nights with barely a toilet break as meetings stacked up back to back. But it ebbed and flowed. I quit because I got a better opportunity. In other words, they paid better and I will get to do cooler things!

How different is your current job scope compared to before?

It's quite similar—that's why I was attracted to the job because my job description is pretty niche. In IT, I help with building applications and websites by translating business needs into requirements for developers to work on. But my role will grow to be more strategic and I'd like to explore my role in a more global context—with a bigger scale and working with colleagues from around the world!

How do you feel about your decision so far (did it satisfy your reasons for quitting)?

I'm pretty satisfied, but I've got a long way to go. It's like changing schools or moving to a new country. It's a new world and I'm working on finding my footing again.

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 6)

Diandra Erin Soliano, 31

Former Digital Associate Editor turned Digital Marketing Manager

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 7)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

Truth be told, I hit a complete wall with writing daily articles. It was a never-ending writer’s block and I had to accept (after a year of trying to find new motivation) that it wasn’t where I was meant to be anymore. I’m big on challenging perspectives, and when I accepted that I really was—after 10 years of being in the media industry— quite honestly ‘over it’, I could embrace the other side of what I would on some mornings see as a ‘failure’ or ‘giving up’. Opportunities could now become possibilities—the chance to do something new and exciting, and advancing in my career. The pandemic definitely played a part—lots of wine and time to think about my life!

How different is your current job scope compared to before?

Going into digital marketing is a different perspective—or the other side of the same coin. Working in magazines, I’ve learnt to think as the reader—why would I want to read an article, does it make me feel inspired, or do I feel annoyed at how gimmicky something might sound—especially because sales and marketing is a big part of any business, and in magazines it’s no different.

How do you feel about your decision so far?

Digital marketing is very exciting to me because I feel really connected to the audience, and I find it fulfilling to bridge the gap between a brand I completely love and believe in (my new job!) and our audience. It’s easy to doubt yourself, but honestly, we’re meant to keep learning and the internet makes it accessible to learn almost everything! I spend most days watching a class on Skillshare or listening to a podcast.

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 8)

Lawrence Tan, 28

Former Senior PR executive turned co-founder of a clean self-care brand

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 9)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

I decided to quit my job as a Senior Account Executive handling mostly lifestyle and international luxury brands during the middle of the countless lockdowns we've faced because I noticed the change in purchasing habits and restricted movements due to the lockdown. I wanted to be able to contribute something to society during this turmoil period and that’s how I ventured into offering good quality yet affordable products made with clean ingredients.

How different is your current job scope compared to before and how do you feel about your decision so far?

The job scope of working in a PR agency compared to my own startup is a different game altogether. In running my own startup, I need to know more than just PR and marketing, but also how to run and sustain a business from the ground up, albeit being out of my expertise. It is also different in the sense that you have a stable income as an employee but not as a startup owner.

How do you feel about your decision so far?

I take this as a healthy challenge for myself to strive towards my goals. I am very happy with the leap of faith I took and I'm enjoying every minute of this challenge.

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 10)

Margaret, 32

Former Anaesthesiology Medical Officer turned Aesthetic Doctor

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 11)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

I changed my job twice this year. I was working in the hospital and with the uncertainty of getting a permanent position, I decided to leave to private. Unfortunately, I started my new job as an aesthetic doctor at the beginning of MCO 3.0 and that cause a lot of difficulties as aesthetics cannot run during the mco. This caused me to almost lose my job during that time. The pandemic made me realise that life is short—my priorities shifted to taking care of myself, my family and my friends. By changing careers, it made it easier to do so.

How different is your current job scope compared to before?

At this moment, my current job includes aesthetics, wellness, and treating medical cases as well. It is definitely not as physically draining (I had to do 24 hours on-calls before) but exciting to embark on new challenges.

How do you feel about your decision so far (did it satisfy your reasons for quitting)?

Definitely no regrets. I feel that I now hold my future in my own hands. It is challenging learning a different set of skills but I have better work-life balance and get to see my family and friends more!

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 12)

Joan Kong, 30

Former Fashion Editor turned Freelance Fashion Copywriter and Social Media Strategist

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 13)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

After over four years working at a media company, I was burned out. My goal was to take a break before figuring out my next move, but one thing led to another, and now I’m freelancing full-time as a fashion copywriter and social media strategist. I don’t think that Covid-19 contributed to my decision though—if anything, being jobless in a pandemic made me think twice about leaving! However, I realised that there’s never a perfect time to quit a job, and if I no longer want to stay, then it’s up to me to do something about it.

How do you feel about your decision so far (did it satisfy your reasons for quitting)?

I definitely don't regret my decision. For the freelance flexibility with, gratefully, full-time stability, and for all the personal and career growth that happened during this short period of time, I really couldn’t have asked for more. That said, I’m very thankful for all the opportunities that I had during the years at my previous company. The tête-à-têtes with some of the world’s most renowned fashion designers, the chance to attend the Chanel Métiers d’Art show (a dream of mine since I was in high school!)… Those are definitely experiences that I’ll cherish forever!

Chan Yen Shen, 32

Former Accounts Executive for a manufacturing company turned Senior Accounts Executive for an outsourcing center

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 14)

Why did you decide to quit your job this year (and did the pandemic have anything to do with it)?

I think the pandemic affected me more in terms of my working style (WFH), but it also made me reflect on my current remuneration and seek further opportunities. Since my previous company was moving to a much further location, I decided to move on for progression in my career. I was offered a more senior and higher-paying role in a newly established outsourcing center which utilises my Japanese language skills, so it was good fit for me.

How different is your current job scope compared to before?

I have much more to do compared to my previous company, as I currently have to handle the accounts for multiple companies instead of just one. In my previous company, I was the subject matter expert for intercompany functions whereas my current role involves handling many more functions.

How do you feel about your decision so far (any regrets/did it satisfy your reasons for quitting)?

I kind of miss the more 'chill' job scope of my previous company. Nevertheless, I think it was a good move for career progression and also more rewarding pay. Not to mention, it's a much nearer and more convenient location to work at.

“I quit my job amid the pandemic”: 8 Malaysians share their stories (фото 15)

Based on the insights above, the main reasons for leaving a job are in line with the results of the survey by Employment Hero. Pay cuts and opportunities for career advancement are significant drivers of job resignations in Malaysia, but, evidently, so is burnout. While these factors may seem common regardless of the Covid-19 pandemic, the resulting lockdowns and WFH sitch proved to have escalated the hunt for new career prospects—even in unfamiliar industries.

The people's priorities have shifted, with financial stability and flexibility leading career- and life-changing decisions. Now the billion-dollar question is: what are employers going to do about it?

For more career stories, click here.