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For this generation, 2020 will be remembered as the worst year ever. No matter where you look, you will hear about how the pandemic ruined everything. From cancelled vacations to job loss to a health care system stretched beyond belief, including the employees who work in it. For too many families, there also was the tragedy of a COVID-related death.

What I am not hearing so much about is this generation’s accountability for how 2020 played out. For many, the storyline is one of having no control: The virus came to Canada, it spread around, and there was no hope for anyone until a vaccine arrived. It’s an easy and safe way to explain what happened. The only thing is that such a narrative is not accurate. We had control.

At the start of the pandemic, many commentators used the analogy that this was our generation’s war to fight. I’m sad to conclude that as a collective, we have failed miserably. From the very beginning we were told to follow simple guidelines that have been proven to slow or stop the spread: limit social contacts, wash our hands and, soon after, wear a mask. This was our battle plan, and there were lots of opportunities to effectively use it.

Going into 2021, perhaps we can salvage some dignity and prove to ourselves and the generations after us that we can fight a war against COVID-19 by using our common sense and following temporary rules. Like food rationing in wartime, they may not be convenient, but they are necessary.

Choose guidelines over comfort

Too many times, I’ve heard people using the words “whatever you’re comfortable with” when it comes to how to follow the guidelines – myself included. When all of us are chafing to resume a normal pre-COVID existence, it’s all too easy to think it’s harmless if a good friend or family member pops in for a coffee or glass of wine. Unfortunately, that’s not what the science is telling us, particularly as new COVID-19 variants that are more easily spread are appearing. No visits means NO VISITS. Period.

Company leaders may feel comfortable coming into the office when they drive in on their own, park in their designated spot, and have plenty of space to physical distance in their personal office. Consequently, they may have no issues with putting pressure on employees to come into the office with the perception that it’s equally safe for all to do so. That’s not the reality for everyone, especially if some employees’ commutes puts them into contact with many others on transit, or they work in an open workspace. If the guidelines say to work from home wherever possible (and most people who work in front of a computer can usually do so), then stay home. Company leadership should do everything possible to support employees working at home and demonstrate the same through personal action.

Stop looking for loopholes for convenience or entertainment

If your jurisdiction is shut down, do not simply drive to one that is still open and continue your daily shopping or entertainment routine. Doing so will only make things worse in areas that are not as bad, and they will get shut down too – as is now happening in many provinces. Companies can mirror this by reinforcing to their employees that working from home and limiting outside contact is key. Company HR teams can encourage a fun competition around the most innovative ways to deal with the lockdown, whether it’s changing the way they work or enjoying family time creatively.

And if you live in a small community, follow the stricter provincial guidelines as set for communities that are dealing with bigger case loads. Your community may have fewer COVID-19 cases right now, but that can change overnight unless we all act in unison.

Deal with pandemic fatigue

I don’t know anyone who loves wearing a mask, especially for the past five months. We are all missing our favourite activities and events. Remember, however, that those businesses that are being forced to shut down right now are paying a big price for our collective misdeeds. Hair salons, gyms, and most retailers are not the reason COVID-19 cases are rising. Unfortunately, your stylist and fitness coach are out of a paycheque until at least mid-January because we couldn’t be trusted on our own to keep our distance, at home and elsewhere.

The war is not entirely lost, but it’s clear we’re not winning with our current attitudes and efforts. We need to do more, and better, regardless of how soon vaccines are arriving to save us.

Eileen Dooley is a talent and leadership development specialist, and a leadership coach, based in Calgary

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