4 Things to Remember… From a Year to Forget

3-minute read

Ordinary People Can Do Extraordinary Things

Hero is a term used too casually when describing a wide range of achievements. But for frontline healthcare workers during a pandemic, it fits. In a nation woefully ill prepared for COVID, our medical professionals stepped into harm’s way to care for the sick and comfort the dying.

The evening ovations for healthcare workers have ended and hospitalizations due to the virus are at an all-time high, but these selfless women and men continue to serve our communities, putting themselves at risk for us all.

In the aftermath of 9/11, we all became more considerate of airline employees and appreciative of sacrifices by military members. Now is the time to show that same consideration and appreciation to our healthcare workers — starting with rededicating ourselves to help slow the spread by:

  • Wearing a mask in public
  • Avoiding indoor gatherings whenever possible
  • Maintaining physical distance.

Embracing these tiny inconveniences are the best ways to say thank you to all who serve in our medical and eldercare facilities.

Science and Expertise Matter

The astounding accomplishment of developing effective vaccines in under a year* offers great hope for the future of medicine, technology, and the planet. We’ve demonstrated that when the worldwide scientific community shares information and resources — and nations invest at a level to make a difference — incredible achievements can happen.

Whether the same commitment to global distribution of vaccines (including our poorest societies) will occur isn’t clear yet, but it will tell us if the US and other wealthy nations have learned we’re 1 interdependent planet. Unwavering recognition of this fact — regardless of who occupies the Oval Office or controls Congress — will determine if the US regains an international leadership role in the greater challenge of climate change.

Looking ahead to the next pandemic — in a year or 100 years — we have the opportunity to start preparing now. We have models in Taiwan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and others. Yes, these countries are smaller and more isolated than the US. But knowing what we do today, being better prepared next time is a matter of will, not geography.

We have expertise and resources to create the infrastructure for testing, contact tracing, isolation, and other measures to limit the spread, reduce excess mortality, and mitigate economic harm. We can do it; we just need to decide it’s worth it.

*The mRNA science in Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines goes back decades, but its successful use in COVID-19 vaccines is the first commercial application.

We Gained Renewed Hope for the Environment

While a global shutdown in the spring caused considerable economic hardship, the abrupt reduction in human activity gave us a glimpse of cleaner air in cities around the world. It showed us what’s possible with decisive, ambitious action to reduce burning of fossil fuel.

Another major win for the environment included passage of the Great American Outdoors Act in July, which awarded nearly $10 billion toward maintaining and preserving national parks and other public lands. Some say it’s a sign both major political parties view the environment as a key issue for their constituents going forward. We hope so.

Electric cars are beginning to replace gasoline-powered vehicles and got a major boost from the UK which announced a ban on the sale of new gas and diesel engine cars beginning in 2030. In the US, California — bellwether state for all things environmental — committed to the same by 2035.

Major US Banks including JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo all agreed not to fund drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The incoming Biden administration has signaled it will require publicly traded companies to disclose their emissions and potential impact on climate change. The UK has indicated its intent to do the same.

Wind and solar energy generation rose 14% in the first half of 2020 to nearly 10% of global electricity. Worldwide, the UK (33%) and EU (21%) lead the way, with Germany ahead of every other nation at 42%. The US is at 12% but notably reduced electricity from coal by 31%.

14 nations (not yet including the US) announced a far-reaching pact to protect and sustain ocean health within their jurisdictions — an area about the size of Africa — by 2025.

HR and wellness leaders can add to momentum for a healthier planet by implementing the new HES program, Sustain. Learn more by watching the 2-minute video at SustainProgram.com

Emphasis on Emotional Well-Being Is More Important Than Ever

The uncertainty and turmoil of 2020 negatively affected workers’ mental and emotional health around the world. Long-term implications are unknown, but there’s reason to believe the impact will linger for many months or years… even after a feeling of normalcy begins to take hold.

Last fall, HES completed an analysis of 160 North America and UK well-being campaign implementations from mid-March to mid-August. Participants across all work settings consistently rated programs highest for emotional well-being when they emphasized outdoor activity, optimism, and mindfulness, followed by gratitude and connectedness.

HR and wellness leaders can have a positive impact on employee emotional well-being with HES’s new Work of Art campaign. Learn how Washington University in St. Louis helped more than 1400 employees and families enhance resilience and boost mental health during the pandemic.


Dean WitherspoonDean Witherspoon
Chief collaborator, nudger, tinkerer; leads the most inventive team creating well-being and sustainable living programs. Reach out if you’d like to talk about employee well-being, emotional fitness, or eco-friendly living.

2 Comments. Leave new

  • Ellen Brewster Houston
    January 7, 2021 12:37 pm

    Dean, thank you for your insight and hopeful review of what we CAN do. After a day like yesterday, January 6, 2021, your ideas are even more important.

    • Dean Witherspoon
      January 12, 2021 7:44 am

      Thanks for the positive comments, Ellen. Trying to see through all of this to find a path to a more rational and compassionate society. Our healthcare workers — above all others — give me hope.


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