Today is my first day of work in 2021 and before delving into many tedious tasks coming back from the holiday break I thought I would spend some time reflecting on what lies ahead this year for the world in light of the 2020 events.
The obvious challenge in front of us is the current global pandemic and how soon the world can contain COVID-19 to get back on track. While the pandemic has significantly impacted work and health I decided to look further than the imminent strategies and actions required by employers and employees. Unfortunately, an essential success factor in containing a global pandemic has been, in my opinion, lacking to a considerable degree, and that is global collaboration and transparency. Too many countries turned inward, tried to portray a better picture than existed in reality and wanted to save face. Likely many lives could have been saved with more transparent and cooperative actions. Key international organizations such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the World Bank need to be supported and strengthened, while at the same time be monitored for effectiveness and efficiency. I hope the global contributions of international organizations will be recognized by countries and people worldwide and the international collaboration mechanisms optimized. To this regard I suggest following my dear colleague Patricio Marquez’s (Consultant to the WBG COVID-19 Global Emergency Response Program) blog at http://www.pvmarquez.com.
If the pandemic has shown us one thing it is the need for access to affordable health care. At least half of the world’s population still do not have full coverage of essential health services. UN Member States have committed to achieve universal health coverage (UHC) by 2030, as part of the Sustainable Development Goals (www.who.int/healthsystems/universal_health_coverage). Progress needs to be made in 2021 towards this lofty goal. Two incredibly significant issues intertwined with affordable health care and which need enhanced attention in 2021 are racial justice and gender equality.
Another essential area which needs to be fortified and upheld is science. One of the positives of 2020 was science proving its immense value and the scientific community standing strong against ludicrous attacks from heads of state and politicians. In times of polarization and the exponential amplification of messages in social media we need to persevere with evidence-based and clear-headed messages as well as better explain research design to the public.
A third area to keep close track of and bolster is education and training. Education is a key foundation of societies, economic development and gender equality. Unfortunately, the cost of education continues to increase globally – more than housing – (see twelve charts on the global economy from the McKinsey Global Institute at www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/innovation-and-growth/twelve-highlights-from-our-2020-research) and can send young people into their professional lives with large debts (e.g. in the United States). On the other side, the advent of online training resources and courses – including free resources – has provided opportunities for career development for many.
Finally, the working world is transforming rapidly before our eyes. Remote work has blossomed during the pandemic, and while many will go back to the office, working from home as part of a hybrid model will stay for some jobs. This transformation will not lead to productivity loss, potentially to a productivity increase, but has implications for the workplace health and wellbeing field, i.e. a more agile, flexible approach with enhanced technological capabilities is needed. It is important to point out that an overeager reliance on telehealth and apps will not produce healthy and wellbeing in the long run. Rather the old adage of “hard work” in form of strategy development, needs assessment, leadership engagement, evaluation and continuous improvement will produce the desired results: healthy, happy and productive employees (see Nico Pronk’s What Works in Worksite Health Promotion at https://journals.lww.com/acsm-healthfitness/Citation/2020/05000/What_Works_in_Worksite_Health_Promotion_.14.aspx for best practice design principles).
The good news is that many of the tools and strategies to advance the above specified goals are available right now, we just need to use them wisely and put in the hard work.