For Americans (and Canadians), the first Monday of September is Labor Day, a day now most recognized as the unofficial last day of summer. Many schools peg their back to school restart to this holiday. Families celebrate the three day weekend with often their last trip to the mountains, parks, beaches and lakes. People join friends for picnics, parades and bar-b-qs. Labor day back to school shopping is a common tradition.
However Labor Day’s origin was to celebrate the American employee, particularly those that worked in the trades. It was intended to be a day of respite from the standard 6 day work week, 12-16 hour day, and honor employee’s contributions to America’s strength, prosperity, and wellbeing. In that sense, it was the original “recharge” day, something that the pandemic has caused companies like Nike, Johnson & Johnson, BoJangles and yes, WeSpire, to add on top of other holidays to combat alarming jumps in stress, burnout and fatigue during the pandemic.
Origin of the Holiday
Labor Day became a federal holiday in the midst of a contentious labor dispute at the Pullman Car Company that had crippled rail service. Workers were protesting layoffs and wage cuts without corresponding rent cuts at the company housing. The International Workers Day in May was seen as too closely aligned with “radical” leftist politics so September, which corresponded with the first Labor Day parade in New York, was selected.
While certainly the trade unions fought long and hard for safer conditions, shorter hours and work weeks, progressive company owners also tried different tactics to attract the best employees in order to improve business outcomes. In 1914, when Henry Ford doubled wages to $5, profits soared in the following two years. During World War II, the government capped wages to prevent inflation so ‘fringe benefits’, ranging from vacations to pensions were introduced to attract the best talent. In the 1990s, when the supply of jobs outpaced the workforce, the flexible schedule, subsidized parking, gym passes and stock options were introduced.
As the shift to knowledge work continues, the importance of employee’s mental health and wellbeing grows. Research shows that productivity declines after 50 hours a week and after 55 hours a week, work is virtually pointless. Yet the pandemic has caused hours to jump by an average of 49 minutes per day and used vacation time has dropped by 30%. It’s an incredibly competitive labor market. Enter the “recharge day”, a required break where the whole company is closed, in an attempt to help.
Why Do Recharge Days Matter When You Have Vacation Time?
I’ve debated why a company with a flexible vacation policy or plentiful vacation days even needs a recharge day. Where we landed in this discussion at WeSpire is that when the rest of the company is open, it is harder in a digital world to actually take a break. You miss important meetings. Someone covers for your clients or projects, but you may need to take calls to help them. Your inbox fills with things others are sending to scan and process. The hope is that with everyone off, and clear external communication of the day, only true emergencies need to be handled.
Certainly recharge days are not the only way to support employee wellbeing. WeSpire’s wellbeing module offers numerous other programs and initiatives that can help in the course of work, from mindfulness and gratitude exercises to fun activity challenges. Perhaps when we look back in 10 years, we will see that the pandemic era ushered in a new permanent fixture to the working world, a day or days to contribute to employee’s own mental strength, prosperity and wellbeing — a supplement to the day that honors the employee’s contributions to our Nation.
“The higher your energy level, the more efficient your body. The more efficient your body, the better you feel and the more you will use your talent to produce outstanding results.”Anthony Robbins