Updated: Nov 28, 2020
Hello! My name is Sharon Sun and I currently attend Markville Secondary School, located in the Greater Toronto Area. In the past few months, I've had the opportunity to learn more about the world of consulting with Illuminate College and their National Partners. This is an article I wrote in April regarding the effects of COVID-19 on human capital beyond getting sick, discussing both the economic and mental consequences of the pandemic.
I recently read an article by the New Yorker that said: “Coronavirus, indifferent to individuals, has no moral or credal purpose, (. . .) it becomes human when it hits us”. This is true. The coronavirus has no face or body - it becomes human, just the size we are, when we experience its various effects. The rapid (and uncontained) spread of the pandemic, and subsequent health systems frantically rushing to contain its transmission, has pushed humankind into a sort of global consequence. In Canada, as the spread exponentially worsens each day, schools have closed down, restaurants have shuttered their doors, and most businesses are essentially on complete economic lockdown. In New York, makeshift morgues are being constructed in the streets where the dead are moved out from overcrowded medical centers, frontline workers are nearly worked to unconsciousness, grocery shelves have been scratched empty from panic-buying goods. Refrigerated trucks are parked outside hospitals to store an overwhelming influx of bodies. We attempt to put mental brackets around the virus in order to uphold some method of categorizing its devastation, of giving it a sense of possibility; yet locked behind the doors of our own homes, we are only able to directly understand how it affects us personally.
In the wake of all the chaos, what does this mean for the average Ontario student? Likely staying home, sleeping in (or sleeping at 5 AM), watching movies all day. Every night at 4 AM, the birds start chirping—I know, because I’ve unfailingly been awake to hear them. A welcome and well-deserved break from school, especially for a current junior like me. But while we sleep, frontline workers witness the emptiness surrounding them as governments order more and more businesses to close. The jarring emptiness, obvious as soon as you venture outside, seems more difficult to process and just as surreal as the circumstances we are living in.
Equally surreal and less avoidable are the numbers, broadcasted repeatedly every day in alarming shades of red and white. Every day, the lack of adherence to social distancing means the world wakes up to an exponentially higher number of deaths instead of good weather. Yet honestly, while the mental strain is still there, you see little of the actual effects if you are not an essential employee or a frontline worker. You stay inside, surfing the news and eating your array of snacks. It’s safe behind the doors of your house, your family works from home, and you’re comfortable in your bed with your laptop propped on your sheets. And then it’s all good until your dad gets laid off, your mom starts talking about her company making staff cuts because they can’t open, and you realize that the virus has leaked into your house without actually infecting anyone. Suddenly it becomes unavoidable, impossible to ignore even within the confines of your own home. And then a flood of anxiety, a new kind of anxiety amidst the health concern the pandemic already poses.
The pandemic forces human capital consulting, or the relationship between employers and their employees, into the unprecedented strained territory. What can businesses do during this time (or should we call it an age?) to lessen the effects of the pandemic on their employees? Throughout a pandemic that may last an indefinite amount of time, are there any measures that can be put into place to ensure their employees, and the families they support, are taken care of? Is there even any way to do so? Each day the government announces a new sector of the economy is closing and top management hosts a rushed meeting call while employees wait with dread. Even with governmental assistance, not every employee can be kept on the payroll. What measures, or assurances with even the tiniest bit of sincerity, can mitigate the anxiety their employees, and their employee’s children, feel when waking up and checking the news every day? Canadian unemployment could hit 15 percent during the pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of people have lost their jobs and over 500 000 Canadians have filed for EI in a single week. This is unsustainable. There is no feasible end in sight, only mounting panic.
It would be wrong for me to say the economic effects of the coronavirus are indifferent to race, gender, or ethnicity since undoubtedly the poor and uneducated are more heavily affected; both are statuses historically linked to the aforementioned factors. However, the coronavirus is substantially inconsiderate to which sectors of the economy it affects, enough to have an unpredictable and spontaneous nature. The civil engineer with a master’s degree is unemployed because the construction company they work for can no longer open its construction sites for building. The accountant working in a small firm doesn’t have a job anymore because they no longer have any clients to serve. There is a looming uncertainty of the length of their employment and the uncertainty of their financial future. There never has been a more crucial, more imperative time for employers to devise strategies to ensure their businesses are not shut down while maintaining the livelihood of their human capital. However, this crisis also lays bare how little HR and management can do in the devastation of a universal threat. In short, there is nothing they can do if the pandemic doesn’t magically recede overnight.
For now, there are no morgues in the streets of Toronto that the average citizen can view when they look outside their window; there is no explicit devastation from the virus beyond what we can see on our televisions and phones. COVID-19 is still containable within Ontario with the current quantity of cases. But the devastation it brings economically perpetuates further and more wide-reaching consequences than a family member falling ill. As the number of COVID-19 cases climb, businesses are increasingly hard-pressed to compensate employees at all, if only partially. Inevitably, there will be more layoffs in the resulting economic devastation, as COVID-19 waits, invisible yet omnipotent, to enter your household without rendering anyone ill.
If anything, this only demonstrates the impact that individuals who refuse to adhere to a mandatory action have on the lives of potentially millions of people. Never has there been such a stark demonstration of the impact that a singular person can have on all companies nationwide, and thus all the lives of the employees they support. For now, as HR departments and businesses total their losses, we must ardently make sure to responsibly social distance. There are no trucks full of bodies driving through the streets of Toronto, but only for now. Social distancing, and doing anything we can to impede the spread of the virus, is essential not only to avoid falling ill but for once, to reduce the impact we have as individuals and instead amplify our will as a collective. Everyone becomes an essential worker, with a singular essential duty. For us, to mitigate the economic consequences, and to lend a helping hand to others less fortunate.
Connolly, A. (2020, March 27). Canadian unemployment could hit 15 percent amid coronavirus pandemic, the deficit to $113B. Retrieved from https://globalnews.ca/news/6740289/pbo-report-coronavirus-pandemic/
Ferreira, V. (2020, March 22). This week 500,000 Canadians applied for EI. Here's how you can do the same. Retrieved from https://financialpost.com/personal-finance/this-week-500000-canadians-applied-for-ei-heres-how-you-can-do-the-same
Gopnik, A., & Montgomery, P. B. (n.d.). The Coronavirus Crisis Reveals New York at Its Best and Worst. Retrieved from https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/03/30/the-coronavirus-crisis-reveals-new-york-at-its-best-and-worst