The Financial Times has an extraordinary story on its front page today: “HSBC, the world’s third largest bank, is estimating that up to half of its staff could fall ill or be absent from work at the peak of the next flu pandemic.”
HSBC’s calculation isn’t a forecast. Instead, the bank’s head of group crisis management is trying to plan prudently. “None of us know the virulence of the virus, but I would rather be prepared for the worst,” the FT quotes Bob Piggott as saying. In contrast, the FT reports that the UK government reckons “an average of 8% of the workforce absent at any one time and 25% cumulatively throughout the duration of a pandemic”.
What’s worrying in the report is not only the high estimates of potential illnesses and disruption. Most organizations have yet to develop real contigency plans.
I recently wrote something about expecting the unexpected. In the case of a pandemic, what happens to supplies from food processing plants? And what about the economic well-being of whole swathes of the modern economy that rely on sourcing parts from around the globe, as governments respond to pandemic by clamping down on travel and trade that could spread a virus?
Rather than hope for the best, sensible leaders will be making their contingency plans.