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Healing the long-term effects of COVID-19 on careers

COVID-19 has changed how people think about work and their careers. How can leaders respond to this new normal?

5 min read


Person looking at performance indictators and thinking about their career

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While “long-haul COVID” is a term used to describe the lasting health-related effects associated with coronavirus infections, leaders are also witnessing the potentially long-term effects of COVID-19 on organizations, individuals and the future of careers.

It’s an understatement to say that the past two years have had a profound effect upon business and people. The news reports daily on the extraordinary stressors present in today’s workplace and their wide-ranging implications.

And employees are responding to the sustained and challenging conditions by leaving, by remaining but in a diminished capacity, by profoundly rethinking their relationship with work.

I’ve written throughout the pandemic about how workplaces, leadership and career paths are changing, and what leaders should do in response. This post walks through key areas to monitor regarding the long-term effects of COVID-19 on careers, along with further reading for the curious, growth-oriented leader.

Packing up and leaving

Employees are voting with their feet in record numbers. Another 4.3 million Americans left their jobs in December, only slightly down from November’s record-breaking numbers. Some are simply taking their talents elsewhere; but others are taking their talents out of circulation altogether.

The pressures of caring for others – especially school-age children – during this tumultuous time make working a near-impossibility for a lot of parents. And many people have determined that the risks are simply not worth the rewards right now, so they’re sitting it out and waiting until the crisis passes.

Staying and stretching beyond all limits

Other employees have chosen (or believe they have no choice except) to stay in their jobs. Facing unprecedented levels of attrition, those who remain must pick up the slack and endure extraordinary pressure and expectations. No wonder stress, burnout and disengagement are at record highs, and the mental health of many is deteriorating.

Rethinking their relationships with work

Many employees are engaging in deep soul-searching. They’re bringing voice (sometimes for the first time) to questions they might have only silently asked themselves in the past:

  • Does this work mean something to me?
  • Can I achieve the balance I now can’t live without?
  • Am I getting the opportunities I want to grow and learn?

All of these responses over the past two years have long-term effects on people and careers. That’s why organizations and leaders must now be prepared to respond in new ways if they want to attract, engage and retain workers.

Pre-pandemic strategies won’t be sufficient to thrive in a post-pandemic world. Taking these three steps today can ensure a healthier future.

1. Stay close

Don’t assume that “goodbye” is forever. Many people feel that they have no choice but to hit the pause button on work or to make a job change right now. But smart organizations will find ways to stay in touch with good employees who have left. And there are plenty of ways to make that happen.

Informal outreach from time to time to see how people are doing. Sharing relevant updates and achievement to perpetuate a sense of involvement and pride. Reunion events. These kinds of effort create the open door for talent to return when they’re ready — or when the grass turns out to not be quite as green as expected.

2. Take care

Now is the time to put focused attention and action behind your commitment to caring for your people. They’ve been caring for customers, patients and the business. They’re frequently bearing the brunt of raw nerves, abject fear and supply chain disappointments. They need nurturing to remain centered, engaged and productive.

So, invest in authentic relationships. Prioritize conversation and meaningful communication. Check in frequently – because the internal personal landscape is as changeable as the external business landscape these days.

Identify and offer the services employees need. This might be mental health, wellness, and other resources that keep people whole and say, “we care” and “you matter.”

3. Reimagine careers

The past two years have inspired epiphanies for many. Shifting priorities, the desire for greater flexibility, a commitment to a new kind of balance – each of these has significant implications for careers. That’s why it’s essential for managers to engage differently with employees around career development.

Climbing the corporate ladder may be interesting to some; but many are going to want a different relationship with work, alternatives to traditional career paths, promotions and landmarks, and unique ways to express their talents and make a difference.

As a result, organizations must be prepared to respond to an expanded definition of what careers are and how they’re developed. We must bring greater creativity to helping people learn, grow and develop in ways that are meaningful to them and that serve their broader lives.

COVID-19 has taken a toll on communities, businesses and individuals. We’ll likely be dealing with its long-term effects on health and the economy for some time. But organization and leaders have the power to heal the long-term effects of COVID-19 on careers by taking action now.

Staying close, taking care and reimagining careers are a prescription for a healthier workforce.

Want more insights about career development in this age of uncertainty? Download this sample chapter from her new book, “Promotions Are So Yesterday: Redefine Career Development – Help Employees Thrive,” scheduled for release March 8, 2022, by ATD Press.

Julie Winkle Giulioni is a champion of growth and development in the workplace, helping leaders and organizations optimize the potential of their people. Named one of Inc. Magazine’s top 100 leadership speakers, she’s the co-author of the international bestseller “Help Them Grow or Watch Them Go: Career Conversations Organizations Need and Employees Want” and a forthcoming book, “Promotions Are So Yesterday,” published by ATD Press. Learn more about her work at

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