The History of Pandemics and How They affect Work and Recruiting

The Coronavirus has had a profound effect on the world of work. In some ways, the changes are immediately apparent and in others, only time will tell. And yet, this is not the first time a global pandemic has afflicted us. What can we learn from previous pandemics and what should we expect to happen soon? In this article, I am looking back at the history of global pandemics and making a few predictions concerning the world of work in general and recruiting specifically.


Have you heard of “The Black Death?” also known as “The Great Bubonic Plague?” It was probably the most destructive pandemic in history, killing an estimated 200 million people worldwide in the 14th century. Historians have speculated that the Black Death killed somewhere between 30% to 60% of the Europe’s population and reduced the overall world population from approximately 475 million people on the planet to 350 – 370 million people on the planet. It took 200 years for Europe's population to recover to its previous level, and some regions (such as Florence, Italy only recovered by the 19th century.

So how did that affect the world of work? Well, for one thing, With such a large population decline from the plague, wages soared in response to a labor shortage. And that was just one repercussion. Listen to this quote from The Guardian that gives a bit more insight.

"Probably the most destructive pandemic in history, killing an estimated 75 million to 200 million people worldwide in the 14th century. "It altered the course of European history and, in the end, world history," says Professor Tony Barnett at the London School of Economics. "Some have argued that it established what we call modern capitalism."

The significant loss of manpower not only depressed the economy of the time but forced people to change the way they worked. Before the plague, the main source of income in East Anglia, for example, was growing crops. But the Black Death claimed so many lives in the region that survivors turned to rearing sheep for wool as that required much less manpower.

This lack of manpower also brought new equipment. For example, prior to the plague, men used spears to catch fish, but those who survived had to invent new devices to catch the same amount of fish with less manpower. That is how big fishing nets came into being.

Many believe that the Black Death ended feudalism, the system of service in return for a grant of land, which burdened the peasant with many obligations to his lord. Since so many peasants and artisans died of the plague, those who survived became more particular about where they worked."


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