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Post-covid employee engagement

Fiona Passantino, Late December 2021

Another year comes to a close. If we look at our exact moment in history right now, we are in the second year of a Global Pandemic, and nearly at the end of the alphabet soup of Covid variants.

We are exhausted (42% of women and 35% of men according to a 2021 McKinsey report)[i]. We are stressed out and on-edge – 40% of us – making 2020 the most stressful year in recent history[ii]. We are seeing some of the worst of our humanity with riots and unrest increasing globally by 10% in 2020[iii], and tension and aggression among families, friends and colleagues lining up along the vax-antivax lines. One in four of us experienced sadness (27%), anger (24%), disengaged (24%) and 44 million Americans resigned their jobs in the month of September alone[iv].

The holidays approach with more canceled festivities, postponed family visits, weddings, conferences… all the things that make us Social Animals feel happy and connected. We are closing our restaurants again, limiting our contacts, staying indoors and ordering takeout.

But we are also seeing the best parts of our humanity shine through like a beacon through mist. Great bursts of creativity, acts of compassion and kindness, heroism and sacrifice from some of the least among us[v].

If we look at our exact moment in history right now, we are in the second year of a Global Pandemic, and nearly at the end of the alphabet soup of Covid variants.

A bit of perspective.

Covid was not our first global pandemic and will certainly not be the last.

In 1918, the Spanish Flu ravaged the globe over three brutal years, claiming more lives than World War I, military and civilian combined[vi]. A full third of the world’s population was infected resulting in 50 million deaths worldwide.

The Spanish Flu saw three distinct waves, peaking in the fall of 1918, responsible for the majority of deaths in the US[vii].

The 2020-2022 Covid Pandemic was our first in the age of smartphones and sharing, widely communicated about on social media across all digital channels. This pandemic is the first with its own apps, QR codes and an uncounted number of hashtags and strings.

Hundreds of animations explain why we need to wear masks and wash our hands, and thousands of immediately recognizable graphics and icons, from the iconic “Flattening the Curve” and the ever-present “1,5 Meter Distance” have helped us understand this virus. Their message has taken up permanent residence in our deep collective memories.

The holidays approach with more canceled festivities, postponed family visits, weddings, conferences… all the things that make us Social Animals feel happy and connected.

How does this end?

The 1918 Spanish Flu ravaged our species for three years. And then it went away. But how did the story end? Or did it?

Back then, those who became infected and survived developed antibodies. Life pretty much returned to normal by early 1920’s, and the virus faded away somewhat, becoming a less deadly version than its peak variant at the height of the pandemic.

The remnants of the Spanish Flu kept mutating and hopping from humans to farm animals and back again, until it finally just settled into just another seasonal flu. Fast forward to today, the flu that kept us down last week was likely a descendant of the 1918 H1N1 virus[viii]. Many experts believe that Covid will follow the same path; just fading into the background, never really going away.


We come to the end of a brutal year for our species. After the first shocking year of the pandemic in 2020, adrenalin and shared common purpose carried us through the first waves of lockdown. We quickly got used to working with our cats and kids and Zoom calls carried out in closets. We acquired the taste for takeout and had the space to do some deep thinking.

Do we want to return to the way life used to be, complete with long commutes and the grind of traffic? Do we continue to work in a structure that drains us emotionally, that pays the bills, or do we dare to take the risk and do what we love?

Covid has defined this generation. From the executives who have had to re-imagine their communication and engagement strategy to the workers who have asked themselves the difficult questions about their commitment to their jobs. To the children who have grown up wearing masks and having soccer games canceled to the elderly who have quickly learned the basics of digital video conferencing app installation. We have all received a crash course in molecular biology, viral spread and risk analysis probabilities with the help of our digital channels and the power of visual communication.

As we celebrate the end of our second year of Covid and our entry into the year 2022, we understand that Covid will be with us for a while, but we have the creativity and resourcefulness to re-imagine a future that keeps the best part of what the pandemic gave us.

Eventually, we will return to our social lives, augmented by the digital ones we superpowered over the past two years. We don’t know exactly what it will look like, but the future will be hybrid: a complex tapestry weaving of the real and the digital together, one augmenting the other, offering far more choice, flexibility and reach than we could have imagined in our pre-covid lives, just three short years ago.

Exit Strategy.

Special thanks to the excellent reporting by @jackjaykelly, @Forbes, @LeanInOrg, @McKinsey, @TeddyAmen, @washingtonpost, @gallup, @JeffCoxCNBCcom

[i] McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, 2021. “Women in the Workplace 2021”. McKinsey & Company 2021, accessed on December 7, 2021.  https://wiw-report.s3.amazonaws.com/Women_in_the_Workplace_2021.pdf

[ii] Kelly, 2021. “Global Emotions Survey Shows Record High Levels Of People ‘Feeling Stressed, Sad, Angry And Worried”, Forbes Magazine, accessed on December 7, 2021. https://www.forbes.com/sites/jackkelly/2021/07/31/global-emotions-survey-shows-record-high-levels-of-people-feeling-stressed-sad-angry-and-worried/?sh=3cfde23f6963

[iii] Global Peace Index, 2021. “World less peaceful as civil unrest and political instability increases due to COVID-19”. Institute for Economics & Peace (IEP), accessed on December 7, 2021.  https://www.visionofhumanity.org/world-less-peaceful-as-civil-unrest-and-political-instability-increases-due-to-covid-19-pandemic/

[iv] Gallup, 2021. “Global Emotions Report”, Gallup, accessed on December 7, 2021. https://www.gallup.com/analytics/349280/gallup-global-emotions-report.aspx
  Cox, 2021. “Millions of people quit their jobs in the ‘Great Resignation.’ Here is why it may not last long”, CNBC.com, accessed on December 7, 2021. https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/18/why-the-great-resignation-may-not-last-very-long.html

[v] Meyrick, 2021. “Creativity in the Time of Covid-19”, Griffith University, accessed on December 7, 2021. https://www.griffith.edu.au/engage/professional-learning/content-centre/creativity-in-the-time-of-covid-19

[vi] NCIRD, 2018. “1918 Pandemic Influenza: Three Waves”. Content source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, accessed on December 7, 2021.  https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/three-waves.htm

[vii] Roos, 2020. “Why the 1918 Flu Pandemic Never Really Ended After infecting millions of people worldwide, the 1918 flu strain shifted—and then stuck around.” History.com, accessed on December 7, 2021. https://www.history.com/news/1918-flu-pandemic-never-ended

[viii] Amenabar, 2020. “‘The 1918 flu is still with us’: The deadliest pandemic ever is still causing problems today.” The Washington Post, accessed on December 7, 2021. https://www.washingtonpost.com/history/2020/09/01/1918-flu-pandemic-end/