Escaping the rat race

For decades the best and brightest Graduates flocked to the City but the allure of sky high salaries and glamorous lifestyles are steadily fading as employees reassess the live-to-work mentality. For a growing number, the appeal of the corporate lifestyle has begun to fade as the financial crisis, corporate downsizing, public anger over bonuses and the realities of long hours, antiquated processes and the slippery rungs of the corporate ladder have taken hold.

Instead of simply pay and perks, today’s talent want an environment where they feel they can contribute to something bigger, be it the company vision, sustainability projects or mentoring schemes. But most would-be corporate escapees simply don’t know where to start, nor should giving up the safety of a full-time job be a decision that is taken lightly. Instead Britain is seeing a changing relationship with work. The number of part-time entrepreneurs are soaring as more young people make the first step in taking hold of their own future, while the UK’s culture and perception of volunteering has been transformed following the success of the London 2012 ‘Games Makers’.

In 2009 at the height of the global financial crisis, two frustrated young Ernst & Young consultants Rob Symington and Dom Jackman began phasing out their corporate day jobs and saving to launch their first startup ‘Escape the City’. Today, after a much publicized £600,000 crowd-funded investment, it is more than just a website that helps bankers and lawyers escape to more rewarding careers, it’s a full-fledged global community of 96,000 members, overflowing with innovation and energy. Escape the City lays a foundation for mapping out your dream next move from the very beginning, the end point of which could be anything from finding a new part-time job to starting a business of your own or even going on an adventure.

“We realised we weren’t in for the 20 year slog to wherever the corporate ladder would eventually take us and realized that so many people feel the same way. Like all good startups, we wanted to solve a problem, ours was that people want to do something amazing but don’t know where to start,” says Rob.

You don’t need to look further than Escape’s 2010 survey of young twenty-something City professionals which showed that almost 60 per cent planned to change job within a year and 54 per cent wanted to start their own business compared to only 12 per cent who said they “loved” their jobs.

Everyone’s story is unique. It may be downshifting to a simpler life, better balance between leisure and work or hopping on the rollercoaster ‘start-up’ journey. But the long-term impact is a notable shift to developing and achieving life goals built on personal fulfillment as opposed to a single pursuit of economic success.

By far the biggest draw has been the appeal of being one’s own boss. Corporate escapees are riding the wave of entrepreneurial talent in the UK where the number of new businesses launched increased by 10 per cent to 484,224 in 2012 according to data released by StartUp Britain. While twenty-something’s may be leading the corporate exodus it’s not just the millennial generation that are reassessing career paths- the average age of a first-time tech entrepreneur is today around 40 and research shows that over 70 per cent of new startup ideas come from previous work experience.

But making the leap has to come with a sizeable warning. Self-employment is simply not for everyone. It’s not an easy ride and for every startup that becomes a growth business there are thousands that fall by the wayside. The key is to plan for your future- an idea is not a business until you have proof it works. Consider whether you can launch your idea from the relative safety of a full or part-time job and shift your priorities when you have a business model that works.

There is plenty of advice available. Whether it’s a recent escapee, a veteran offering advice or a newbie looking for ideas, these crowd sourced communities like Escape the City thrive upon shared stories and engagement. But they’re also not just a source for inspirational ideas  but practical advice on everything from raising funding to finding business premises, or finding talent with every imaginable job on offer – although unsurprisingly, you won’t find any City jobs!