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Core Values in the Time of Covid

Invisible Workers — Essential Workers

Our core values carry us through the different conditions and times of our lives. How we relate to our personal values may vary as the conditions vary. Our understanding of them may change, as well. But through it all, these values help us through difficult times — familiar markers that can guide us through the chaos.

Right now, a tragic pandemic is challenging us not only physically, but in all aspects of who we are. This pandemic has shown us and reconfirmed for us what is essential in our lives — our value of life, the quality of life, family, friends, and the essentials of dignity and respect.

As a result, people are seeing more clearly what work — and workers — are essential to our survival. First and foremost, we can see how totally dependent we are upon our health care workers — doctors, nurses, aides, medical support staff, maintenance workers — everyone. The sacrifices these workers make on our behalf are indescribable. In addition to providing the crucial health care itself, these people help bring dignity and respect to their patients.

And beyond these health workers, people are now seeing others as essential — the long list of people who provide our food, is just one example.

But here is the challenge — before the pandemic, many of these same essential workers were invisible workers. They were the underpaid farm laborers picking crops, the farmers, the truck drivers bringing the food to market, the people stocking store shelves or setting up an open-air market and selling the food to those who need it. These are the same store clerks that before Covid, some customers never made eye contact with.

People in so many different jobs were viewed as invisible or “less than” because of their job or their position. Essentially, anyone can be treated as invisible by their leaders, their customers, or even complete strangers — because of their job type, job position, gender, skin color, race, culture, religion, social division, or economic class.

The writers Hannah and Singer described this experience well, “When you’re told time and time again you’re not good enough, if your opinion doesn’t matter as much, when they don’t just look past you, when to them you’re not even there — when that has been your reality for so long, it is hard not to let yourself think that it is true.” 

These invisible workers work across all professions — the road crews, garbage collectors, housekeepers, restaurant waiters and kitchen staff, maintenance and cleaning crews, and the unrecognized support staff within a wealthy company or government agency. The list of invisible professions goes on and on.

The Whitehall II Study shows that even in a formal organization — the burden of not being seen or heard, of being viewed as lower or less than someone higher up, of experiencing the loss of dignity and respect — weighs heavily on people’s physical health and the human spirit. Add to this a pandemic and people’s fear for their health, economic security, and their ability to take care of their family. The result is increased stress and illness, more heart disease, and a loss of mental and emotional wellbeing.

So here is the challenge for us as human beings in this time of Covid: After this pandemic has passed or has at least greatly improved,

Will we remember this new-found perspective that all workers are essential —
or will we let people become invisible again?

Martin Luther King, a civil rights leader in the U.S., said it so simply, “No work is insignificant. All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.”

As part of our core values, all of us seek dignity and respect through our work. After the pandemic improves and we reach what people call the new normal, we have an opportunity to determine what that new normal looks like. How it materializes and how we express it to each other will vary from country to country and culture to culture. Regardless, the opportunity is here to reconfirm just how much we are all connected and depend upon each other.