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How a pandemic mobilised the pursuit of passion

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I've always loved watching the way passion motivates people to pursue more meaning in their work and life - even when times get tough.

Growing up, I would hear multiple stories within my own family of people doing what it takes to make a living in a place they love, but also to make their work meaningful. For my parents, for example, that meant dedicating their careers to teaching.

Given the disruption to the workforce and the workplace due to COVID-19, it would be natural to think that passion takes a back seat during our recent crisis. But I was deeply motivated when I saw research from HP's Workforce Evolution Study that suggested otherwise.

Our study found that even amidst a global crisis, UK employees remain undeterred in following their passions. The disruption has spurred these empowered employees to learn new skills, bring more purpose to their work, and even start new businesses.

Workers may not have anticipated the crisis-fuelled changes in their workplace, but are now recognising it as an opportunity to create better ways to work and live. They're taking charge of their destiny during uncertain times and aligning their careers with their passions.

 

A new world of work

The pandemic seemingly changed everything overnight, but it's helpful to remember that the workplace was already in flux. Millennials and Generation Z, who account for over two-thirds of the UK workforce, have wholly different expectations for how, when and where we work.

For example, young professionals rely on technology for almost everything, from improving their productivity to spurring innovation. They make collaboration a priority, and they expect technology to facilitate it. They also value flexibility - in workspaces and hours. They aim to mould their work to fit with their lives and not the other way around (an approach that I think we can all learn from).

Companies like HP have been adapting to these trends for some time. The pandemic, however, sped everything up.

In the HP survey, over half of UK office workers reported that they'd honed their technology skills in the last six months. Worried about job stability, 49% have also taken the initiative to learn new hard and soft skills, from IT and digital literacy to problem-solving and stress relief. Of course, this all comes during a massive adoption of remote work, which came with stressors but also provided the flexibility that so many people crave.

 

Where passion meets entrepreneurship

As the crisis ushers in a new way of life, many employees have rediscovered the things that inspire and drive them. HP's research shows that people are re-evaluating what matters, and for many, that means viewing entrepreneurship as a way to fulfil their career needs.

Over a third of UK employees, for instance, said that the new skills they've recently learned had piqued their interest in starting their own business. This was especially true for millennials, with nearly half of the respondents from this generation, noting that they are more inclined to go out on their own. Given the priority that millennials and Gen Z place on purpose-driven work, their enthusiasm for entrepreneurship bodes well for us all.

I've witnessed this same pursuit of purpose-driven work within my own team at HP. I'm constantly seeking ways to motivate my team members to find a passion that intersects with their professional skills, and I'm always looking for counsel from the foremost experts on that topic.

 

Sustaining a new world of work 

Moving forward, the question is: how do we continue to cultivate this passion in a world that's seemingly filled with so much uncertainty? And how do we empower people to build skills that help them evolve their careers and launch their own companies?

There are no easy answers, but there are some good starting points. First, we need to ensure that everyone has access to the appropriate technology to further their career. For example, less than half of UK employees say they have all the supplies they need to perform their jobs.

According to HP research, in the UK, 67% of employees had to purchase supplies to work from home, spending an average of £335 out of their own pockets. Printers and upgraded Wi-Fi were among the top purchases.

I can't overstate the importance of technology access to career improvement - tech makes it possible for workers to improve their skillsets and levels the playing field for budding entrepreneurs.

Next, we must deeply understand - and accept - that the new hybridised world of work will only accelerate. I've written before about the concept of working from home, the idea that we are quickly approaching a seamless blend of our personal and professional lives, facilitated by flexible and fluid technology. We are not turning back.

Work (and life) have forever changed, and emerging leaders understand the vital need to lean into the OneLife trend in ways that are healthy, productive, and individualised for all employees.

Finally, we must provide employees with opportunities for continued learning. People must know that they can find and follow their passion at any age and at any point in their career. If these shifts are an indication, the future of work may be about more than pursuing our interests and dreams - and that seems like a very good thing. 

 

Anneliese Olson is SVP and general manager, printing category at HP