How do Pandemics Affect Recruitment?

You know that old classic recruitment catchphrase?

No, not the one about it being uncapped.

Nope, not anything involving bespoke.

Oh, sorry, no not the one about being the fastest growing, sorry I should be more specific.

I meant the one about managing a business, within a business?

About how your desk is its own business and you should be constantly managing it as such. So, me old mate… when was the last time you did a decent SWOT analysis?

Some time ago huh?

Welp, today I’ve done some of your work for you. Because I can almost universally conclude that if you’re reading this, your life will be somehow affected by a pandemic.

It might not be this one, but it will happen.

Time to ring the bells and hunker down?

Not quite.

But it’s worth knowing some of the potential threats to your current existence, to better slow the oncoming tide.

Obviously, it’s Cornonavirus as it stands. Or COVID-19.

But in the fairly recent past, we’ve seen HIV, Bird Flu, Ebola, Lassa Fever, Zika, Yellow Fever, Monkeypox, Cholera, Swine Flu and even the Plague – which I thought had died out yonks ago, but turns out, she’s still kicking.

How Pandemics Affect Recruitment

Anyway first of all, let’s define a Pandemic

Simply, it’s something which affects the whole world. In this case obviously a virus.

But it’s important to note before we go any further, Coronavirus (at time of publishing) has not been given this status by the World Health Organisation. But it does have pandemic potential.

Now, time for a bit of GCSE science…

The human body’s an incredible thing. It’s the most robust creation of endurance found in the animal kingdom that’s ever existed. We’re the most evolved and most profound creation on the planet.

And yet, with that rather impressive boast, comes difficulties.

Namely our ability to acclimatise to the world around us.

See, a vaccination for a specific disease normally involves giving somebody a small amount of that disease.

You then produce antibodies to fight off the disease in a small ruckus, somewhere on the periphery of the battlefield.

Once that battle’s been won and the victorious party trots home for a feast, the troops know what to expect, as they exchange pleasantries over a roaring fire (your temperature).

Now any future battles that arise with this force are swiftly put to the sword.

There’s an issue though…

Because in the background, the forces we’ve already battled find new weapons and mutate to other things.

Take HIV for example. This is a relatively new disease in human history. But in the 35 years it’s been around, it’s infected about 70 million people, and killed an estimated 35 million.

“Consider also that in the last 40 years, Ebola has surfaced in almost 25 separate and deadly outbreaks, often after long spells in which it has apparently lain dormant.” – World Health Organisation.

So whether it’s another Coronavirus or Ebola or another new and completely unknown infliction, history is going to repeat itself.

It’s not a possibility, it’s an absolute certainty. 

Pandemic Recruitment Hunted

Who’s at risk?

That very much depends on where you live, and which particular manifestation arises at the time. But from a health perspective in reality, there’s almost no way of stopping widespread infections ahead of time.

As usual, the already vulnerable are most at risk. So those with more miles on the dial, and weaker immune systems due to existing conditions.

How Pandemics Affect Recruitment

But the world’s now truly global in every respect.

So a high percentage of the things you consume on a daily basis has probably started life somewhere else.

Whether that’s your morning coffee, your breakfast, the person sitting next to you on the tube, your clothing or office equipment… and that’s all before we reach 9am.

The fact we’re now operating at full globility (yes I made that up) means the new worry for pandemics, is the speed in which they travel.

“From a scientific perspective, the problem is to generate predictive models that capture the interactive effects of the epidemiological, ecological, and socioeconomic processes at work in emergence and spread.”  Jones et al. 2008.

“In terms of rate of spread, risks faced by society are an externality of private decisions.” Perrings et al. 2018.

So basically, it’s crucial for individuals to privately weigh up the cost and benefit of travelling and risking contamination, and having the facts at hand to fuel the right move.

And this is where the problem lies.

Realistically, you’re unlikely to die from Coronavirus as it stands. It might happen. But if you compare the number of COVID-19 deaths to those of yearly flu numbers, it’s not even close. The flu’s a much bigger issue.

But making the educated decision not to travel, where you may come into contact with elderly or sick people, means you’re doing it right.

Poorly educated decisions speed up pandemics. 

How Pandemics Affect Recruitment

Impact on the world’s economy

“When the WHO declared a pandemic for the H1N1 influenza outbreak in 2009, the decision was criticised by some countries, which felt that caused unnecessary panic.” 

As you know, economies fluctuate on rumour.

Whole markets are impacted by news, both good and bad and this naturally affects industries like recruitment, if sustained.

So generally, both the WHO and individual countries are reluctant to declare major events without due cause. So far, the Coronavirus is being treated as a series of epidemics. Which is to say, it’s not a force enough yet to warrant the worry.

According to the World Bank, the annual global cost of moderate to severe pandemics is about £440 billion. That’s 0.7 per cent of the world’s income.

So trepidation trumps the trigger on declaring outright war.

Even when you have people like Bill Gates prophesying 10 million deaths and the overwhelming of health services.

Impact on recruitment

The potential impact on recruitment is huge, regardless of the pandemic being discussed. Your boss may have already discussed you working from home. But a bit of home comfort’s the best case.

The worst case is clients’ and candidates’ short-term panic, becomes long-term withdrawal. And the potential impact on travel and overseas projects is obvious.

There’s a strange paradox of pandemics however. As seen in centuries past, like the Plague of the 19th Century. The British actually enforced the relaxing of quarantines on trade routes quickly afterwards.

Thus helping its position with the (then) world’s best navy in trade wars with other nations.

Many see Coronavirus having a similar effect.

Trump’s been only too keen to close borders and practice national protection via banning flights from various countries. Viewing this latest super virus as a chance to slow China’s meteoric rise might seem all too viable.

How Pandemics Affect Recruitment

Whether the next pandemic will affect your own career will take a little thought.

How much are you affected by manufacturing? Do you work in medical science? Is international travel crucial to your desk operating?

There’s a myriad of reasons you might suffer in the case of closing international borders and narrowing of trade.

But here’s a few tips from the World Economic Forum, (tailored for you) which might help your analysis…

Be prepared

Easy one to start. But basically think through all of the touch points in your industry.

If you work with a network solely in the city you live, it’s unlikely you’ll be affected dramatically.

But say you work in Medical Devices, Aeronautical or Electronic Engineering, and a high percentage of your clients import goods and trade from a multitude of areas, how can you best get round that?

Think about what would happen if you had to rely on people interviewing and then working 100% remotely.

Are you able to refine your client list? Can you work solely within a same-country ethos?

Look long term

It might look bleak given your desk and the international nature of many businesses. But there are options.

Your colleague might be exploring a desk right now which would benefit from your knowledge. Where are the opportunities if this were to become mainstream.

Because as noble as it is going down with the ship, it’s not your only choice right now.

Agility always goes a long way in business. In times of uncertainty, it’s best if you have options.

Is it worth widening that tight niche of yours, to expand your client base?

Move on quickly

As evidenced above by the sneaky British, things move on quickly after pandemics cease to exert their dominance on the world. And that will always happen.

Speeding into new markets, or following businesses which do, might make your recruitment story all the more interesting and rewarding.

Keep your ear to the ground in troubling times. Not just for the health reasons, but if you stay ahead of the game and make smart choices, it’ll pay off for your career too.

You’ll also be able to support your clients better, the more information you have.

How Pandemics Affect Recruitment


Here are some top tips for staying healthy…

1) Wash your hands, and things you touch, and don’t touch your face, pandemic or no pandemic.

2) Don’t travel unnecessarily. Really think trips abroad through. Who will you see when you’re back? Is it worth it?

3) Don’t panic. Believe it or not, panicking makes things worse. Almost universally. And panic buying baked beans won’t help.

4) Read. As much as you can. From the right sources. Spread information and not viruses.

Worried about the oncoming recession? Don’t worry, I’ve got you there too.