It’s been seven years since Gary Chung left his job in finance and product management.
The 44-year-old is now a self-professed “slashie” — someone who pursues multiple careers in lieu of holding a traditional full-time job.
“I decided to be a slashie because … working in Hong Kong, the overtime work, the intensity — I couldn’t stand it for quite a long time,” he told CNBC.
Since taking the “leap of faith,” Chung has worked as a wedding cameraman and phonics teacher — but for now, he’s chosen to focus on being a Taekwondo instructor and sports products sales trainer.
American author Marci Alboher is commonly credited for popularizing the term “slash career.” She wrote a book about people who pursue multiple interests and income streams in search of a satisfying work life.
One other example is Hugo Ho — a personal trainer/social entrepreneur/financial planner who lives in Hong Kong.
“I don’t do the same thing day in and day out. Every day is different,” the 31-year-old told CNBC. “I am so refreshed and motivated every day.”
The concept of being a slashie is somewhat similar to being a freelancer — yet different, said Vicki Fan, CEO of professional services firm Mercer’s Hong Kong business.
“Freelancers tend to be … hour- or project-based, and they are happy with kind of troughs and peaks in terms of work,” she said.
Being a slashie is “more formalized,” she explained. “They would be applying for similar roles that full-time people in the market will be applying for as well.”
Anecdotally, this path seems to be increasingly common in Hong Kong and around the world.
Chung, the Taekwondo instructor/sports products sales trainer, said a lot of people want good work-life balance.
“As a slashie … I would think that would be easier to balance,” he said, adding that many people also want to be YouTubers/internet influencers.
Ho, the personal trainer, said technological advancements allow people to seek different career opportunities easily.
According to Mercer’s Fan, there has been an increase in the number of slashies, especially as a result of the pandemic.
However, she does not see slashies replacing the mainstream workforce.
“For slashie work culture to be more embedded, two enablers have to be in place, and that’s from an employer’s perspective,” she said.
The first is a redefinition of work to focus more on skills or responsibilities, and less on working hours and processes. “Many companies’ existing roles do not work like that,” Fan said.
Secondly, slashies need to have opportunities and access to benefits such as health care. Otherwise, there’s likely to be a cap on the number of people willing to be slashies.
Chung is under no illusion about the trade-offs between a traditional profession and his own unconventional career choice, having given up a stable income and a job with health insurance to be a slashie.
“It’s quite a big risk,” he said. “As a father of two, it’s really a … big leap of faith.”
The coronavirus crisis also hit him. With retail businesses suffering, he did not get much work as a sales trainer. At the same time, the Taekwondo gym where he coaches also had to close temporarily, and classes were moved online.
“We have been working so hard — I would say thrice as hard, but earning maybe half as much,” he said.
It’s important to be financially ready for a drop in income, especially at the start, Chung said.
“Once I quit my job to become a slashie, I think I was earning only one third of my (previous) salary,” he said. Slashies-to-be must also have good knowledge of the roles they take up, be disciplined and have support from their families, he advised.
Mercer’s Fan said employers may also view slashies differently if they apply for a full-time role.
Comparing the resumes of a slashie and a traditional employee, hiring managers may question whether a slashie can be dedicated to the job.
That’s unlikely to be a concern for Chung and Ho — both men say they’re not interested in going back to regular 9-to-5 jobs.
Ho said he would “definitely not” return to a traditional full-time role.
“I enjoy being a slashie because I can have my flexibility,” he said.
Chung said he now earns more than he used to and enjoys what he does.
“I really love what I do now,” he said. “As a slashie, as a Taekwondo coach, I don’t have to work so much, so … I can spend more time with my family.”
— CNBC’s Yolande Chee contributed to this report.