Over the past few weeks we’ve fielded a spate of questions from health system executives wondering about their peers’ plans for employees to return to the office. Some who have set a January 1st target for employees to return to their physical workspaces are now reconsidering.
“The first of the year sounded good back in the summer, but now it seems kind of arbitrary,” one system COO told us. “And if we really are entering a winter ‘third wave’ of COVID, it may not be a sound decision for health reasons, either.”Many have been positively surprised by the levels of communication and productivity since many employees began telecommuting full-time back in the spring. “It would be one thing to tell people they had to come back if the work wasn’t getting done. But for many, productivity has actually been better,” one executive shared.
Eight months into the work-from-home experiment (and with a handful of high-profile companies like Twitter saying employees can work from home forever), some leaders are now wondering whether they too should allow some staff to work from home permanently. The opportunities are obvious: real estate and overhead cost savings, and a potential boost to employee engagement and retention. But contemplating a long-term shift raises big questions.
As remote workers in expensive markets look to move to lower-cost cities, or even to states with lower tax rates, does a geographic connection to the area matter? As new staff who have never met in person are added, can culture and teambuilding be sustained? And how to blend operations and communication across remote staff and those who work in the office, by choice or necessity? (“In-person meetings are great, Zoom meetings have gotten better, but the ones where half of us are in a conference room and the other half are dialing in feel like a death knell,” one physician leader told us.)
The pandemic has likely launched a lasting shift toward “work anywhere”. But in order to capture the benefits of remote or flexible work, leaders must invest time and resources to rethink and transform the way they onboard, manage, operate, and communicate with the hybrid teams of the future.
While it sometimes seems like the coronavirus has been with us forever, it’s worth remembering that there are still parts of the country that are only now experiencing their first big spike in cases—that’s the nature of a “patchwork” pandemic working its way across a vast country.
One of our health system members in the Midwest, with whom we recently spent time, is in just this situation: they’re seeing their highest inpatient COVID census to date, just this month. As they shared with us, there are advantages and drawbacks to being a “late follower” on the epidemic curve. The good news is that they’re ready.
Back in March, like most systems, they stood up an “incident command center”, and began preparing for a wave of COVID patients, designating a floor of the hospital as a “hot zone”, creating negative pressure rooms, cross-training staff, developing treatment protocols, stockpiling protective equipment, and securing a pipeline of critical therapeutics and testing supplies. There was a moderate but manageable number of cases across the late spring and summer, but never to an extent that stressed the system.
Eventually, recognizing that they couldn’t ask their doctors, nurses, and administrators to stay on high alert indefinitely, they “stood down” to a more normal operational tempo, only to watch with dismay as the surrounding community seemingly forgot about the virus, and lessened precautions (masking, distancing, and so forth), wanting life to return to “normal”. And now, the post-Labor Day, post-return-to-school spike has arrived.
The challenge now is getting everyone, inside and outside the system, to stop talking about COVID in the past tense, as though they’ve already “gotten through it.”The preparations they’ve made are paying off now. Hospital operations continue to run smoothly even with a high COVID census, but the workforce is exhausted, and citizens aren’t stepping outside to bang gratefully on pots every night anymore.
Asking the team to return to war footing is no easy task, given the fatigue of the past seven months. A question looms: what is the trigger to restart “incident command”? As cases begin to increase again in some of the original COVID hot spots—New York, New England, the Pacific Northwest—healthcare leaders there will need to learn from the experiences of their colleagues in the newly-hit Midwest, about how to take an already virus-weary clinical workforce back onto the battlefield.
Labor Day is a U.S. national holiday held the first Monday every September. Unlike most U.S. holidays, it is a strange celebration without rituals, except for shopping and barbecuing. For most people it simply marks the last weekend of summer and the start of the school year.
The holiday’s founders in the late 1800s envisioned something very different from what the day has become. The founders were looking for two things: a means of unifying union workers and a reduction in work time.
History of Labor Day
The first Labor Day occurred in 1882 in New York City under the direction of that city’s Central Labor Union.
In the 1800s, unions covered only a small fraction of workers and were balkanized and relatively weak. The goal of organizations like the Central Labor Union and more modern-day counterparts like the AFL-CIO was to bring many small unions together to achieve a critical mass and power. The organizers of the first Labor Day were interested in creating an event that brought different types of workers together to meet each other and recognize their common interests.
However, the organizers had a large problem: No government or company recognized the first Monday in September as a day off work. The issue was solved temporarily by declaring a one-day strike in the city. All striking workers were expected to march in a parade and then eat and drink at a giant picnic afterwards.
Labor Day came about because workers felt they were spending too many hours and days on the job.
In the 1830s,manufacturing workers were putting in 70-hour weeks on average. Sixty years later, in 1890, hours of work had dropped, although the average manufacturing worker still toiled in a factory 60 hours a week.
These long working hours caused many union organizers to focus on winning a shorter eight-hour work day. They also focused on getting workers more days off, such as the Labor Day holiday, and reducing the workweek to just six days.
These early organizers clearly won since the most recent data show that the average person working in manufacturing is employed for a bit over 40 hours a week and most people work only five days a week.
As the U.S. economy expanded beyond farming and basic manufacturing in the late 1800s and early 1900s, it became important for businesses to find consumers interested in buying the products and services being produced in ever greater amounts. Shortening the work week was one way of turning the working class into the consuming class.
The common misconception is that since Labor Day is a national holiday, everyone gets the day off. Nothing could be further from the truth.
While the first Labor Day was created by striking, the idea of a special holiday for workers was easy for politicians to support. It was easy because proclaiming a holiday, like Mother’s Day, costs legislators nothing and benefits them by currying favor with voters.In 1887, Oregon, Colorado, Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey all declared a special legal holiday in September to celebrate workers.
Within 12 years, half the states in the country recognized Labor Day as a holiday. It became a national holiday in June 1894 when President Grover Cleveland signed the Labor Day bill into law. While most people interpreted this as recognizing the day as a national vacation, Congress’ proclamation covers only federal employees. It is up to each state to declare its own legal holidays.
Moreover, proclaiming any day an official holiday means little, as an official holiday does not require private employers and even some government agencies to give their workers the day off.Many stores are open on Labor Day. Essential government services in protection and transportation continue to function, and even less essential programs like national parks are open. Because not everyone is given time off on Labor Day, union workers as recently as the 1930s were being urged to stage one-day strikes if their employer refused to give them the day off.
In the president’s annual Labor Day declaration last year, Obama encouraged Americans “to observe this day with appropriate programs, ceremonies and activities that honor the contributions and resilience of working Americans.”
The proclamation, however, does not officially declare that anyone gets time off.
Controversy: Militants and founders
Today most people in the U.S. think of Labor Day as a noncontroversial holiday.
The first controversy that people fought over was how militant workers should act on a day designed to honor workers. Communist, Marxist and socialist members of the trade union movement supported May 1 as an international day of demonstrations, street protests and even violence, which continues even today.
More moderate trade union members, however, advocated for a September Labor Day of parades and picnics. In the U.S., picnics, instead of street protests, won the day.
There is also dispute over who suggested the idea. The earliest history from the mid-1930s credits Peter J. McGuire, who founded the New York City Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners, in 1881 with suggesting a date that would fall “nearly midway between the Fourth of July and Thanksgiving” that “would publicly show the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations.”
Later scholarship from the early 1970s makes an excellent case that Matthew Maguire, a representative from the Machinists Union, actually was the founder of Labor Day. However, because Matthew Maguire was seen as too radical, the more moderate Peter McGuire was given the credit.
Who actually came up with the idea will likely never be known, but you can vote online here to express your view.
Have we lost the spirit of Labor Day?
Today Labor Day is no longer about trade unionists marching down the street with banners and their tools of trade. Instead, it is a confused holiday with no associated rituals.
The original holiday was meant to handle a problem of long working hours and no time off. Although the battle over these issues would seem to have been won long ago, this issue is starting to come back with a vengeance, not for manufacturing workers but for highly skilled white-collar workers, many of whom are constantly connected to work.
If you work all the time and never really take a vacation, start a new ritual that honors the original spirit of Labor Day. Give yourself the day off. Don’t go in to work. Shut off your phone, computer and other electronic devices connecting you to your daily grind. Then go to a barbecue, like the original participants did over a century ago, and celebrate having at least one day off from work during the year!
Labor Day 2020 will occur on Monday, September 7. Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. Labor Day weekend also symbolizes the end of summer for many Americans, and is celebrated with parties, street parades and athletic events.
Why Do We Celebrate Labor Day?
Labor Day, an annual celebration of workers and their achievements, originated during one of American labor history’s most dismal chapters.
In the late 1800s, at the height of the Industrial Revolution in the United States, the average American worked 12-hour days and seven-day weeks in order to eke out a basic living. Despite restrictions in some states, children as young as 5 or 6 toiled in mills, factories and mines across the country, earning a fraction of their adult counterparts’ wages.
People of all ages, particularly the very poor and recent immigrants, often faced extremely unsafe working conditions, with insufficient access to fresh air, sanitary facilities and breaks.
As manufacturing increasingly supplanted agriculture as the wellspring of American employment, labor unions, which had first appeared in the late 18th century, grew more prominent and vocal. They began organizing strikes and rallies to protest poor conditions and compel employers to renegotiate hours and pay.
Many of these events turned violent during this period, including the infamous Haymarket Riot of 1886, in which several Chicago policemen and workers were killed. Others gave rise to longstanding traditions: On September 5, 1882, 10,000 workers took unpaid time off to march from City Hall to Union Square in New York City, holding the first Labor Day parade in U.S. history.
The idea of a “workingmen’s holiday,” celebrated on the first Monday in September, caught on in other industrial centers across the country, and many states passed legislation recognizing it. Congress would not legalize the holiday until 12 years later, when a watershed moment in American labor history brought workers’ rights squarely into the public’s view. On May 11, 1894, employees of the Pullman Palace Car Company in Chicago went on strike to protest wage cuts and the firing of union representatives.
On June 26, the American Railroad Union, led by Eugene V. Debs, called for a boycott of all Pullman railway cars, crippling railroad traffic nationwide. To break the Pullman strike, the federal government dispatched troops to Chicago, unleashing a wave of riots that resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen workers.
Who Created Labor Day?
In the wake of this massive unrest and in an attempt to repair ties with American workers, Congress passed an act making Labor Day a legal holiday in the District of Columbia and the territories. On June 28, 1894, President Grover Cleveland signed it into law. More than a century later, the true founder of Labor Day has yet to be identified.
Many credit Peter J. McGuire, cofounder of the American Federation of Labor, while others have suggested that Matthew Maguire, a secretary of the Central Labor Union, first proposed the holiday.
Labor Day Celebrations
Labor Day is still celebrated in cities and towns across the United States with parades, picnics, barbecues, fireworks displays and other public gatherings. For many Americans, particularly children and young adults, it represents the end of the summer and the start of the back-to-school season.
I am increasingly aware there is no such thing as the so-called work/family conflict. This is not only a personal observation. Scholars have found that good jobs – full-time, with benefits – and family, without help, are simply incompatible.
Work and family are both full-time pursuits. If the problem is framed as a choice between them, the battle is lost, since family will usually win. Telecommuting and “workplace flexibility” are important but do not make up for a lack of time and space to think and work.
Those who need care, especially little children, are needy and adorable, and mothers are evolutionarily disposed to focus on them.
The national shift to home-based work and schooling has had challenging consequences for parents, especially mothers. Sometimes these effects are lovely, like giving us more time with family, but if your goal is getting work done, good luck to you.
Working at home these days without child care is incredibly difficult unless I can escape to another room and close a door. This inevitably triggers screaming, but oh well.
She’s worse than a cat; she climbs on me, presses things on the computer, sucks its edges and screams for attention, in addition to the normal baby bodily functions that comprise a disproportionate section of my thinking – when did she last poop? Is that a rash?
One geography professor tweeted, “It’s hard enough to keep my head barely above the water with the kids at home and interruptions every 2 min … I can’t imagine writing a paper now.”
Another scholar said the data on diminished submissions from women made her cry because it wasn’t just her.
It turns out that someone has to supervise – and sometimes force – children’s learning, even if online, and this takes actual work. With parks, museums, sports, pools and movie theaters closed, and with kids mostly unable to hang out with friends, someone also has to do the physical and emotional labor of keeping children busy, engaged and upbeat. This too is work.
Then there is the simple fact that family members are eating, working and playing in houses most of the time, which means more cooking, more cleaning, more grocery shopping and, yes, more toilet paper.
(OMG the baby took a two-hour nap. I got to exercise and even shower. No time for leg-shaving but I’m still a new woman. Now what was I thinking…)
Because it is not just time, you see. Sometimes the child is playing quietly, and theoretically I could sit down and bang out a research article, but my brain is fuzzy as hell.
I used to wonder what cows thought, standing there chewing their cud in a field. Now I know. They are thinking nothing. Especially with the nursing, I have great sympathy with cows lately.
Before the baby, and before COVID-19, I had great plans for composing scholarly articles in my head during all that nursing downtime. But I forgot that hormones can change your brain and behavior.
Hormones play a role
Feminist theory and research finds that much of what people think of as “biological sex” – female or male – is socially constructed, as in, strongly based on culturally contingent assumptions about women and men as groups. I firmly believe, and teach, this as evidence-based truth.
Pat Schroeder had two young children when first elected to Congress as a Democrat from Colorado in the 1970s. When asked how she could do both jobs, she famously replied, “I have a brain and a uterus, and I use them both.”
I try to live up to Schroeder’s standard, but lately I’ve found I have to qualify it; I tell myself she meant sequentially, not simultaneously.
With luck and science, COVID-19 will recede soon, and we can trickle back to offices, for which I have a newfound respect.
Will the U.S. take something positive from this crisis by learning an enduring lesson about the power of child care?
Americans tend to think of having children as an expensive, private choice. The alternative is to think of it as a public good.
Other countries offer far more generous parental leave and low-cost, high-quality daycare, knowing that “work versus family” is a false formulation. The U.S. is losing serious talent and promoting gender inequality by continuing to misunderstand the problem.
There are many potential options when child care is made a priority in a society.
Government subsidies for child care centers would help low-income workers have access to good care. The U.S. almost managed this in 1971, when Congress passed, on a bipartisan vote, a bill to establish child care centers across the country, funded in part by the federal government. President Richard Nixon vetoed the bill.
Universal pre-K starting at age 3, as in New York City, is another option to advance the interests of working parents and children.