Have you ever really stopped to consider why Americans celebrate Labor Day? Most people enjoy it because the extra day off gives them a three-day weekend at the end of summer for one final barbeque or one last getaway before school. Few people reflect on the movement that forged the holiday’s existence or the sacrifices of the laborers who ardently pushed for its creation. It is likely that even fewer reflect on how the principles behind Labor Day can be just as beneficial for employers as they are to employees. However, this federal holiday serves as a great reminder of the symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship between labor and management.
According the United States Department of Labor, the first Labor Day was celebrated in New York City on September 5, 1882 (which was a Tuesday, by the way; it was moved to the first Monday in September two years later). Labor Day had the dual purpose of serving both as a tribute to the contributions of workers who made the nation so prosperous and as a part of a larger strategy to try to get workers more time off in the nineteenth century, when sixty- to seventy-hour workweeks were the norm. Momentum for the movement quickly picked up steam because of successful coordination efforts among various unions and because a number of leaders both in business and politics wanted to see average work times reduced as well, partially for the benefit of the workers and partially in the hopes of expanding markets. After all, laborers with money need time to spend that money, and they also need opportunities to consume the products or enjoy the services they make so readily available.
In much the same way, Labor Day can serve as a reminder for today’s leaders that treating followers or employees well is good for everybody. No matter what leadership role you fill, favorable treatment of those who work with you or under you is likely to pay off in a number of ways. Let’s focus on three.
1. Happy workers are more productive workers.
Associates who experience a high rate of job satisfaction are more likely to work hard at that job. People who view their jobs as burdens or who may feel slighted are less likely to provide their best efforts. If you want to improve productivity, see how you can improve the working conditions or lives of those who work with you.
2. The principle of reciprocity can work for you.
In a previous article, we explored how the psychological principle of reciprocity affects people. In short, there is a natural human tendency to want to return the favor when someone shows us kindness. Going above and beyond for your employees now may reap tangible benefits for you later. For instance, covering for an associate who is going through a difficult experience by allowing them additional time off while taking on some of their work yourself will make it much more likely that the same associate will do likewise for you if you should fall on hard times in the future.
3. Good leaders engender loyalty from those they lead.
When people experience a high level of job satisfaction, they are more likely to develop feelings of loyalty toward their employer. They are also less likely to seek employment elsewhere. If you want to bring more stability and less turnover to your organization, do what you can to make the work environment as pleasant as possible. This will also have the added benefit of enhancing your organization’s reputation in general, which will make it more likely that you can attract new talent from elsewhere.
So as you down those hot dogs and cold beverages this Labor Day, take time to think about why we have Labor Day in the first place. There are many lessons that this national holiday can teach us that will make us better leaders. After all, Labor Day isn’t just for the labor force anymore!
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