Hong Kong ‘slashies’ reject conventional jobs to pursue a number of careers

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It’s been seven years since Gary Chung left finance and product management.

The 44-year-old is now an avowed “slashie” – someone who pursues multiple careers rather than a traditional full-time job.

“I chose a slashie because … working in Hong Kong, working overtime, the intensity – I couldn’t take it for a long time,” he told CNBC.

Since taking the “leap of faith,” Chung has worked as a wedding cameraman and phonics teacher – but right now he’s focused on being a taekwondo instructor and sports product sales trainer.

What is a slashie?

The American author Marci Alboher is widely held responsible for popularizing the term “slash career”. She wrote a book about people who pursue multiple interests and income streams in search of a satisfactory working life.

Another example is Hugo Ho – a personal trainer / social entrepreneur / financial planner who lives in Hong Kong.

“I don’t do the same thing every day. Every day is different,” the 31-year-old told CNBC. “I’m so refreshed and motivated every day.”

The concept of being a slashie is similar to being a freelancer – but different, said Vicki Fan, CEO of Mercer’s Hong Kong business.

“Freelancers tend to be … by the hour or project, and they are content with some kind of valleys and peaks in terms of work,” she said.

Being a slashie is “more formal,” she explained. “You would apply for similar roles that full-time workers in the market will apply for.”

An upward trend

Anecdotally, this trail seems to be becoming more and more common in Hong Kong and around the world.

Chung, the sports product taekwondo instructor / sales trainer, said a lot of people want a good work-life balance.

“As a slashie … I’d think that’s easier to offset,” he said, adding that a lot of people want to be YouTubers / internet influencers too.

Ho, the personal trainer, said advances in technology allow people to easily search for various career opportunities.

In order for the slashie work culture to be more firmly embedded, two enablers must be present, from the employer’s point of view.

Vicki fan

Mercer Hong Kong

According to Mercer’s Fan, the number of slashies has increased, particularly as a result of the pandemic.

She doesn’t see any slashies replacing the mainstream workforce, however.

“In order for the slashie work culture to be more embedded, there must be two enablers, and that from the employer’s point of view,” she said.

The first is redefining work to focus more on skills or responsibilities and less on working hours and processes. “Many companies’ existing roles don’t work that way,” Fan said.

Second, slashies must have opportunity and access to services like health care. Otherwise, the number of people willing to be slashies is likely to be limited.

Considerations for possible slashies

Chung has no illusions about the tradeoffs between a traditional job and his own unconventional career choices, given that he gave up a stable income and a job with health insurance to be a slashie.

“It’s a pretty big risk,” he said. “As a father of two, it’s really … a big leap in faith.”

The coronavirus crisis hit him too. Since the retail stores suffered, he didn’t get much work as a sales coach. At the same time, the taekwondo gym he was training at had to temporarily close and classes were postponed online.

We worked so hard, I’d say three times as hard, but maybe earn half as much.

“We worked so hard – I’d say three times as hard, but maybe earn half as much,” he said.

It is important to be financially prepared for an income decline, especially at the beginning, Chung said.

“After quitting my job to become a slashie, I probably only made a third of my (previous) salary,” he said. Future slashies must also have a good understanding of the roles, be disciplined, and have support from their families, he advised.

Employers may also see slashies differently when applying for a full-time position, according to Mercer’s Fan.

When comparing the résumés of a slashie and a traditional employee, hiring managers may ask the question of whether a slashie can be dedicated to the job.

No turning back

Chung and Ho are unlikely to be concerned – both men say they are not interested in getting back to regular 9-to-5 jobs.

Ho said he was “definitely not” going back to a traditional full-time role.

“I like to be a slashie because I can have my flexibility,” he said.

Chung said he now earns more than he used to and is enjoying what he is doing.

“I really love what I do now,” he said. “As a slashie, as a taekwondo trainer, I don’t have to work that much, so … I can spend more time with my family.”

– CNBC’s Vivian Kam contributed to this report.

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