“Happy Labor Day weekend!” For the six years that I have lived in the United States, I have, countless times, happily and cluelessly repeated this wish to family members, friends, the barista that always gets my drink right at Starbucks, and everyone else that I converse with on the first Monday of September.
But I didn’t really know what it meant.
We didn’t have Labor Day in Beirut, Lebanon, where I grew up. As far as I could tell from my time here, Labor Day meant a cookout at the end of summer, free-flowing alcohol, a pool scene, a big family reunion, and maybe a hangover the next day.
Upon looking further into the history of Labor Day, I learned that American workers didn’t always have it this good; in fact, work was often very bleak. During the last half of the 19th century, Americans commonly had to endure twelve-hour work days, low pay, harsh work environments, and widespread child labor. This sparked several protests and strikes—and eventually an organized labor movement that resulted in this day becoming a national “workingmen’s” holiday in 1894.
Today at Westhab, where I work as a job developer, many of us take for granted our lunch breaks, benefits, company outings, paid vacation time, and time off during the holidays to spend with family and friends. While a day like Labor Day exists to remind us where we were, how far we have come, and what it took to get us here, the message and value of our ancestors’ efforts often get blurred and mostly lost among the festivities. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
How to Make Labor Day Part of Your Every Day
In addition to celebrating Labor Day once a year, I suggest taking a few moments each day to think about the things you have to be grateful for at work. You don’t need to go nuts and thank your employer for being a lifesaver, but try and find something that you normally take for granted at work and ponder how meaningful it is for you and others. Everyone can do this. Find some time during your commute to work, on your trip to the restroom, while in line at a restaurant, or while walking to your car.
Here’s an example: I like that I am part of a company that is growing with a clear mission that I can fully support. I enjoy the team-building activities Westhab plans for its employees. I also like that many people in management are accessible and are open to hearing feedback and lending a hand when necessary. I like having a job where I can earn money to support my family, and I like doing good work. I like having an impact on my community.
As a job developer, I place people in jobs. Using the process I am describing in this post, I realize that what I am really doing is putting opportunities in front of jobseekers to help them grow professionally. These opportunities will enable them to finally have enough income to stop receiving public assistance or get health insurance for the first time. The big realization for me is that I am making an impact with every person I talk to, and therefore I am going to value every conversation I have with the people I come across. I am part of a company that makes all of this possible, and I am truly appreciative of that.
Long weekends are a blessing, especially for employees that deal with large amounts of stress and uncertainty when trying to deliver services to underserved communities. However, I hope that something you read in this post makes you think differently about an aspect of your work you may take for granted. Look a little deeper into it, and let me know what you find. You may be pleasantly surprised to realize that every task has the potential to be life-changing for someone else.
Labor Day is about celebrating work in America. Let’s make Labor Day part of every day by celebrating the little things we do at work—because these moments have the potential to change people’s lives.