The Rise of the Essential Worker
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The Rise of the Essential Worker

The term “first responder” was born out of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. It was coined for very good reason. It was nearly impossible to be all-inclusive when reporting on the hundreds of firefighters, paramedics and police officers who put their lives on the line during the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings in New York City.

While we remember the over 3,000 who died that day, we also have to remember that the safe evacuation of over 20,000 workers in the World Trade Center was by far the largest successful rescue operation ever undertaken by the fire service.

Hence the term first responder was used as a badge of honor for all of those who under extremely difficult conditions risked their lives to rescue, treat the injured and to recover those who died that day.

During the COVID-19 global pandemic we have witnessed the rise of a new term used as a catch all to discuss the people who are putting their lives on the line to provide service to the masses. Introducing the “Essential Worker.”

Over a month ago when many people made the shift to Work From Home employees, Christopher Krebs of the Department of Homeland Security was issuing a memo to identify essential critical infrastructure workers. These were the people whose jobs are deemed so critical to our nation’s infrastructure that they are expected to risk their lives to care for the rest of us.

In addition to the “first responders” we can now add cashiers, delivery drivers, cleaning personnel, bus drivers, call center workers, home health aides, nurses, food service workers, pharmacists, factory workers and a host of other people who are on the front lines during this crisis to the list of modern day heroes. The work they do has often been underpaid and undervalued — an unseen labor force that keeps the country running and takes care of those most in need, whether or not there is a pandemic.

Who are these Essential Workers?

  • Nearly 52% of all essential workers are women, including 77% of health care worker, 78% of social workers and more than 2/3 of grocery store and fast-food employees.
  • One in three jobs held by women has been designated as essential.
  • 9 out of 10 nurses, nursing assistants, respiratory therapists and pharmacists are women.
  • Non-white women are more likely to be doing essential jobs than anyone else.

es·sen·tial (/əˈsen(t)SHəl/) - absolutely necessary; extremely important.

An Essential Worker designation doesn't necessarily translate into a larger salary. Nearly 5.8 million people have jobs in health care that pay less than $30,000 a year. Personal care aides—those who assist the elderly and others in their homes or personal care facilities—are the single largest essential job category. These workers earn $13.50 an hour on average and 85% do not have a college degree.

Similar to the way we came together to honor First Responders after 9/11, I implore you to recognize the role of Essential Workers in this crisis. Do not forget to thank that call center worker for being available to take your call or that food delivery driver who is out collecting food for you and your family when you have deemed the risk of doing so high enough to defer.

Here is my challenge to you:

  • Tip as much as you can afford. Consider it hazard pay for our essential workforce.
  • Be patient. It will take longer to get your phone calls answered and products serviced. Understand that the business that you are calling is probably understaffed and transitioning their own workforce from a call center to working from home.
  • Be kind. A simple “Thank you for working on my behalf during this time” can lift the spirits of someone who is truly putting your needs ahead of their own at this time.
  • Keep them safe. Meet your food delivery driver at the car. Practice social distancing when dealing with cashiers.
  • Recognize an essential worker you know publicly in the comments below and if they don't have a LinkedIn profile help them to set one up and introduce them to this community.

Allow me to start off the gratitude. I have been fortunate enough to be doing regular check ins with friends and family throughout this crisis. I was speaking to one of my great friends in Atlanta and he mentioned to me that his sister, aunt and mother all worked at Grady Hospital and were all on duty and working through this crisis.

On behalf of my family and my colleagues around the globe I want to publicly thank Lauryn Delisser, Michelle Williams, Jacqueline Delisser and all of the essential workers for showing up every day on our behalf. This global pandemic shall pass, but your commitment, sacrifice and bravery will not be forgotten as we now more clearly recognize the many unsung heroes among us.

Originally published on LinkedIn by Orlando Hampton, EVP at Afiniti. Join the conversation here.

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