Cheers to the Accidental Public Servants


The vast majority of us are doing our parts in the fight against COVID-19 by following the orders of public health officials: remaining at home, socially distancing from others and trying to remain calm. We owe a lot to our public servants who cannot do the same. We should rightfully be thankful to public health officials, doctors and nurses who are the on the frontline fighting COVID-19 everyday. Their dedication to the public is beyond question. The same can be said for the army of public servants at every level who have been called upon to dedicate their time and resources to help contain this virus and protect the public.

What we see everyday from these individuals is the essence of public service, which has been often referred to as a “special calling”. This is a long-standing concept in public administration literature. The basic idea here is that those in public service are motivated beyond a simple desire for material comfort. In fact, they often have foregone material comfort to put themselves at risk for the benefit of others. Simply put, these individuals are motivated to better society and help those in times of need. This, however, is a conscious choice and one that many of our critical public servants – the doctors, the nurses, and public health officials – have bravely made.

As most of us hunker down at home and panic-scroll through social media or binge watch our favourite shows, there are many that are waking up every day and working to ensure that the comforts in our lives – both big and small – are in ready supply. Most of us couldn’t practice social isolation without an army of now clearly essential employees – grocery store clerks, truck drivers, restaurant workers, taxi and Uber drivers, warehouse workers, farmers, delivery drivers and janitors, among others. When times are good, it is easy for many of us to simply not notice how important these people are in our daily lives. When times are bad, we can see plainly how much trouble we would face without them.

These individuals embody the same spirit of public service as those we classify as traditional public servants. Unlike those we would traditionally conceptualize as public servants, their choice to put themselves at risk was not as intentional. Nonetheless they have been thrust into important, stress-inducing positions as they join the active fight against COVID-19. As their important roles are made so clear to many throughout the pandemic, we owe them not only our gratitude during this crisis but also a commitment that we will respect their labour and will work to ensure they are fairly compensated and that their employment is secure and protected well after the COVID-19 threat has passed.  The common mantra during this period is that “we are all in this together.” That may be true, but it needs to carry on after this crisis has passed.

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