“States and cities all over the country have seen a loss of workers over the past several years, and many are struggling to hire new ones. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, state and local governments lost more than 600,000 workers between the start of the pandemic and June of this year. Those shortages have begun to affect basic services, including many that are critical to safety and quality of life. According to a Center for American Progress report from March, there were 10,000 fewer water and wastewater treatment plant operators in 2021 than there were in 2019.”

Report Oct. 3, 2022

“The burnout gets worse … You get a spiral, where fewer people are stuck trying to handle the same amount of work and the whole thing collapses. That’s a real risk at a lot of agencies.”

Report Oct. 3, 2022

A reader recently passed along this quite interesting observation and question:

“From what l have now come to understand is that Covid 19 isn’t the Black Death that the public has fed into and regurgitates. But what if the shots were never meant to be the cure? What if the business you operate relies on the 1,000 souls to run at full strength? Could your business operate with, let’s say 2/3rds of the employees sick and/or dead? In a business climate hard up to find good help what is the likelihood you will find replacements quick enough before you go under? Food for thought.” 

Food for thought indeed. This brings up a very important point: How can a business prepare for what may be an inevitable impact of COVID-related effects on employee health and tenure? A huge and very scary question.

It is being addressed, so far as I can see, mostly by denial. Such a thing could not possibly happen except on a very small and manageable scale. Which we can handle.

This is not a black swan situation – unpredictable in nature, magnitude, and timing. It is a known, real possibility, one that denial or procrastination can’t change.

Risk management routinely addresses identified events and situations (risks) that appear highly improbable but not impossible. Think about the very recent hurricane Ian, which was supposedly “virtually impossible” in West Florida – until it actually happened.

Major employee losses due to COVID effects are impossible, aren’t they?

We sure hope so, but the facts of the situation are beginning to pile up. At least enough so that this seems to be a candidate for risk management to consider.

There is now much credible evidence of serious COVID-related health damages and possibly-related deaths. Hiring qualified replacements has become increasingly difficult. The management issue here, however, is that a troubling loss of employees due to illness or worse from some causes seems to have become a real possibility, even if still regarded as extremely unlikely in the extreme case. We truly hope.

Like so many other major but “highly improbable” events and situations, the management question is whether to address the extreme-case situation today. It seems very difficult, and perhaps impossible, to be able to deal successfully with such an occurrence, or risk, in real time – as it takes place.

What if this happened to us? What if we lost up to two-thirds of our workforce as a result? Is there anything we can do to prepare, despite the real possibility that no such horror will actually occur?

The risk driver here need not even be COVID-related. What if some other plague or pandemic were to arise, as has been predicted? Such warnings seem rather frequent these days. The most productive starting point may well be the possibility of a serious health-impacting cause of whatever nature taking out a major part of a workforce via sickness and death. 

Keywords here: major pandemic + affecting a majority of your workforce.

The management question: Ignore it, or address it now?
The management question: Ignore it, or address it now?

This scary scenario is not really improbable – it has happened before

Recall the 1918-19 “Spanish flu” that killed huge numbers globally, according to the CDC:

“It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States.”

As a personal note on this tragedy, my great-grandfather, his wife, and daughter were killed in the Spanish flu epidemic in the Canadian prairie town of Trochu, AB. Up to half of the town residents died, and most were mass-buried in unmarked graves. Including my relatives.

Really bad stuff like this does happen, and has done so forever.

Preparing as best one can for such major but extremely unlikely events and situations is the essence of risk management.

The 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic really happened, and will again.
The 1918-19 Spanish flu pandemic really happened, and will again.

How can we possibly prepare for a major pandemic risk?

A major pandemic occurrence seems virtually certain. The real uncertainties lie in timing and location. Today, location is most likely to be global because of the ease of transportation and historically-high global population. There is literally no place to hide any longer. This leaves timing as the major unknown.

Timing could be as soon as next year, this year of 2022 already being pretty much worn out, or it could be as long as “way out there”, whatever this means in practice. The question really comes down to whether a management feels that the timing could well be near enough to affect the business “on our watch”, or alternatively far enough in the future that it will be someone else’s problem. Since timing is truly unpredictable, the decision here is simply whether to make some effort to prepare now, or not.

To some extent, the same question arises in connection with the risk of a nuclear world war. Current machinations by the various powers-that-be indicate that the risk right now is “considerable”, and probably growing. Might this risk be addressed as well as part of an overall “pandemic” risk effort?

The answer is yes, assuming that a management team can get sufficiently creative, and its business structure is reasonably flexible. What might this mean in practice?

Defining the risk scenario target: workforce resilience

I addressed this challenge very broadly in an earlier post: “Can We survive a Nuclear World War III? Of Course!”. What seems needed at this point is an extension that focuses on a major workforce loss risk – due to sickness and death (or even things like wartime conscription, an earthquake, or hurricane) – from whatever cause or causes.

If you are not inside the yellow circle, you may have a sudden workforce reduction to manage.
If you are not inside the yellow circle, you may have a sudden workforce reduction to manage.

In practice, the planning goal here is essentially workforce resilience.

Your workforce is assumed to take a major hit from causes varied and unpredictable, at least in principle. The hit results in some combination of worker loss and worker partial-disablement.

At this point, you don’t really know the cause or causes, these being unpredictable in nature, magnitude, and timing. Kind of like our old black swan menace. What you do recognize is some potential for a very large impact on your workforce.

So, what to do?

Step #1: Classify your workforce

Worker loss – probably including yourself – can have an impact on your business or organization that ranges from “minor” to “catastrophic”, which depends mostly upon your particular workers. Classification of workers for this purpose would be based on a combination of function, skills, expertise, and experience. You may think of others, but these are likely to be central in general.

A worker whose loss would be “catastrophic” is one who is both irreplaceable in any reasonable timeframe and essential to the functioning of the unit. Their loss may mean shutting down their unit, or making a major repurposing of it. Hopefully, you do not have any such people, or at most just one or two.

Next up is workers who might be considered “central” to the normal functioning of each business unit. Vital folks whose loss or impairment impact would be major but not fatal to the unit.

Finally, there are the “replaceables” who you are probably replacing routinely as part of the normal course of business. Loss of anything but a large number of these workers would be more of a disruption that could be handled without great difficulty.

Workers whose loss would be catastrophic

These are often referred to as “key” people, but they are in practice much more. Without their active presence, the business or organization cannot function effectively and is very likely to fail. Think here of creative, aggressive, effective entrepreneurs. I have known a few of these. They are in effect the business. Without their leadership, energy, vision, and much else, the rest of the employees would likely be unable to continue and survive as a going concern.

This of course is a very bad situation from a risk standpoint, but these individuals typically cannot be replaced until the business has achieved a substantial size. In quite a number of cases, the founding entrepreneur for example is eventually forced out by a growing and capable professional management cadre.

Another such person is the driving creative force in the business. This may be in marketing, or in product/service development, or even in simply attracting top people in any area. These are the kinds of employees that you can’t do without.

Once you have identified such key people, you need to think about putting in place with them solid understudies who can hopefully learn enough to provide a reasonably solid replacement if needed. This can get very tricky, as you might guess, since such key people so often have enormous egos and understandably are not good at training their potential replacements.

Workers who are “core” or “central”

These people are the foundation of your business or organization – those folks who keep everything running more-or-less smoothly. You can survive the loss of quite a few but not if these are concentrated in a vital function.

This group, hopefully your largest, is where you will want to direct the bulk of your planning effort. They are, for all practical purposes, your business.

Workers who are “replaceables”

These employees are not key in any respect but are just carrying out jobs that few others want to handle. Many are just hanging on until retirement, are actively looking for another job, or are simply not sufficiently skilled or motivated to handle much more. Most organizations deal routinely with such employees, since turnover in this group can have substantial peaks.

The replaceables group, which should be relatively small, will always be with you. It is where the bulk of your background turnover, actual and potential, likely resides. Not much you can do with these folks other than what you routinely do today.

Step #2: Build real workforce resilience

This of course is typically not a short-term, simple, or low-cost endeavor. It has to be carefully planned and adequately funded. It is strategic in nature since it often affects much of the business or organization. The goal is to restructure the business so as to substantially improve its workforce resilience.

You want to make the business or organization able to survive, and even prosper, after an event or situation causes a substantial loss or impairment of your workforce. You may or may not understand the cause or causes until later so the resilience has to be built-in – to function automatically so to speak.

Many approaches will be specific to a particular organization, but there are quite a few that have a pretty general applicability. These may at least provide you with a solid starting place:

  1. Replacement with automation and AI
  2. Cross-training
  3. Redundancy in workers and units
  4. Business redefinition around automation and AI
  5. Critical skills identification (skill loss that would have a major impact)
  6. Training processes
  7. Acquire or divest to improve workforce balance

Some quick notes in case these descriptions aren’t clear:

  1. Replacement with automation and AI
    You are probably doing this actively today, but it may benefit from being ramped up to the extent possible. While it will put some folks out of a job, it will protect the remaining workforce from potential business failure.

  2. Cross-training
    For especially-critical or inadequately-redundant workers, it may be worth making sure that as many as possible can capably fill two or more vital positions.

  3. Redundancy in workers and units
    This action area involves decentralizing critical worker groups into a greater number of units and, where possible, locations. This should allow production to be moved away from units experiencing major worker losses and toward units where losses at the moment are low.

  4. Business redefinition around automation and AI
    Going beyond worker replacement, this action area involves changing the business itself to focus on aspects that are or can be heavily automated. Labor-intensive businesses would be sold or gradually eliminated.

  5. Critical skills identification
    Here, you need to be able to focus on business-critical skills and those employees who strongly possess them. This tells you which employees will be most damaging if they are lost due to causes. It points to functions where redundancy and cross-training are of greatest importance.

  6. Training processes
    If your business or organization gets hit by major worker losses due to causes, your training horsepower needs to be especially effective and located where losses may be most critical. It probably also means that you want to build training processes that can be implemented quickly and that can handle substantial numbers of trainees.

  7. Acquire or divest to improve workforce balance
    This action area is strategic in nature and involves changing your business mix so as to reduce workforce concentrations and units that have a large number of critical skill requirements. This could address markets, customers, products, or entire business units.

Not a happy chore to focus on precautionary workforce reductions, but these may well be vital to protecting the main part of your business. Areas that are particularly vulnerable to disruption from major worker losses due to causes represent a serious weakness in any organization.

Worker losses due to causes can destroy an unprepared business or organization.
Worker losses due to causes can destroy an unprepared business or organization.

Bottom line:

Sadly and deeply-troubling today, evidence is increasing of significant, multi-cause health damages and deaths to workers. Hiring qualified replacements is becoming quite difficult. This is a scary but terribly real situation for most businesses and organizations. Beside this growing causal background, potential exists for huge short-term losses – perhaps even up to two-thirds of a workforce – from pandemics, earthquakes, hurricanes, wars, and other catastrophic events and situations. Many will be fatal to a great number of businesses that are unprepared. Today, this should be an essential risk management and planning target.

Related Reading

“An engineered global collapse is under way right now. If you’re reading this, you already know the score: The coming financial collapse, engineered mass famine, vaccine bioweapons, the possibility of nuclear war, the ‘great reset’ agenda and much more. There’s no question the collapse — which has already begun — will be a chaotic event, and billions of people will needlessly suffer as globalists strangle world supplies of food, energy and money. However, the aftermath of the collapse also presents humanity with an opportunity to choose a different future after this current tyrannical system is wrecked. It is in this choice that humanity can find freedom and prosperity.”

“… This dynamic also reminds us that we must prepare to survive the collapse so that we can participate in the next society that rises out of the ashes of this current failed system. Only those with a heartbeat, obviously, will have a say in the structure of civilization in the post-collapse era.”

“… Humanity can never be free as long as it suffers under centralized control. Fortunately for us all, that centralized system is self-destructing at an astonishing pace. And yet unfortunately for us all, that system will cause tremendous destruction as it goes down in flames, meaning that those who fail to prepare for the fallout may not survive the transition to a post-globalism world.”

“Fortunately for us all, the current system is already in a state of accelerating collapse. The fake fiat currency ‘money’ system is on its last legs. The credibility of the western medical system and all its fake enforcers — CDC, FDA, HHS, Big Pharma — has utterly collapsed. The people no longer even trust the FBI or the DOJ, both of which the people see as being ‘weaponized’ against conservatives, Christians and pro-life advocates.”

“Rather than fearing the collapse, we should welcome the change. What awaits humanity after the dumpster fire of this current tyrannical regime finally turns to ashes is a world of far more opportunity, abundance and freedom.”

“This June [2022], the Census Bureau finally added four questions about long Covid to its Household Pulse Survey (HPS), giving researchers a better understanding of the condition’s prevalence. This report uses the new data to assess the labor market impact and economic burden of long Covid, and finds that: “

  • Around 16 million working-age Americans (those aged 18 to 65) have long Covid today.
  • Of those, 2 to 4 million are out of work due to long Covid.
  • The annual cost of those lost wages alone is around $170 billion a year (and potentially as high as $230 billion).

 “These impacts stand to worsen over time if the U.S. does not take the necessary policy actions. With that in mind, the final section of this report identifies five critical interventions to mitigate both the economic costs and household financial impact of long Covid.”

Note that this long-COVID picture seems to represent background, long-term impacts related to current COVID. It does not reflect what might happen if a 1918-1919 Spanish Flu type of pandemic was to take place.