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Labor Day: BBQs, Beaches, Balance

September 1, 2023

This time of year, Americans wonder how the Labor Day burgers, dogs, and corn will possibly fit on the grill. Or which beach will fit one more umbrella and towel. Workers in the mid- and late-1800s faced rather different challenges: 12+-hour workdays, kids in factories, and unsafe factory conditions. Workers and police routinely clashed over these matters. Labor Day became a federal holiday in 1894 with President Grover Cleveland inking a deal that also ended a railway strike.

A clear and present value

Black-and-white photos of early Labor Day parades may seem like ancient history. Indeed, kids are not on mill floors in the U.S., shift hours are limited, minimum wage exists. But Labor Day – its ribboned floats and echoing brass bands – still symbolizes a quintessentially American thing: the necessary, nitty-gritty balance-keeping between workers and bosses. Last year saw a 50% increase in strike activity over 2021. Headlines tell us of Hollywood, the UAW, and others undertaking or threatening strike. Maybe you’ve relied on (or organized for) benefits like unemployment, parental leave, health insurance, sick leave, or employer retirement contributions. Maybe you’re an investor seeking a review of corporate practices. Perhaps you’re writing (or bolstering) statements, policies, and principles that value workers.

Thomas Alongi, partner and managing director at UHY, suggests that leaders should seek frequent, meaningful, and direct employee contact: “Historically, C-suite tenants have acted top-down, assuming they know best. But a generational shift is taking place and I advise executives to spend more time on the shop floor understanding the issues, looking for ways to consistently incentivize, retain, reward, and lead with gratitude.” As we gather with loved ones over BBQs and beach towels, we applaud all this striving and more. The work is never done.

“When we say our people matter but we don’t actually care for them, it can shatter trust and create a culture of paranoia, cynicism, and self-interest. This is not some highfalutin management theory – it’s biology.”
– Bob Chapman, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring for Your People Like Family

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