Labor Day — the ceremonial end of summer, and start of fall and all things pumpkin spice — is almost here. For Americans everywhere, the day is associated with empty offices, neighborly cookouts and big sales.
But Labor Day is much more than all that. With its roots in a time when Americans labored harder than ever, it’s a reminder that we all do a little better when we take a break now and then.
What’s the History of Labor Day?
If you feel stressed, rushed and overworked today — well, you probably are. It’s no secret that the digital age has ushered in a new era where the boundary lines between work and home are quite blurry. All too often, people carry their work with them wherever they go — usually via the cellphones in their pockets.
Well, the advent of Labor Day came at a time when the American workforce was under even worse pressures. Conditions for most workers in the latter half of the Industrial Era in the 1800s were absolutely abysmal. People commonly worked long hours, seven days of the week, for little pay.
Even worse, the workplace conditions were exceptionally rough. Even young children were forced to toil in factories and fields, and employers were none too concerned about the safety of their workers.
That all changed when the workers began to unionize. Despite aggressive (even violent) pushback from a lot of industries, American workers began to organize rallies and strikes to protest the terrible situation, demanding rights and improvements that have continued to evolve and make workplaces safer over the years.
Eventually, more than 10,000 workers staged a walk-out and a march in New York City on Sept. 5, 1882, which marked the first unofficial Labor Day parade. It took Congress another 12 years, however, to finally declare the first Monday in September an official working person’s holiday. Today, it’s estimated that roughly 78% of the American workforce has Labor Day off (and the vast majority of those who do have to work at least get some overtime).
Knowing all this might give you some good incentive to put down your phone, close your laptop and take a break yourself. If that’s not enough reason to take advantage of the long weekend ahead, we’ve got more:
Working Less Can Actually Make You More Productive
Believe it or not, all that extra work you’re putting in on your “off” hours could be disruptive to your goals. Resting more and working less could be the key to increasing your overall productivity.
How so? Consider these benefits of taking a little time off now and then:
1. You’ll Sharpen Your Critical Thinking Skills
Your brain may be a bundle of neurons, but it operates much like the muscles in your body: Without adequate rest and time to recharge, your mind will eventually become fatigued.
What happens when your brain is just tired? You can’t get anything done as quickly as normal — and you’re more prone to critical thinking errors. Just like a tired driver behind the wheel, you may be able to cruise along a familiar road without any problems — as long as nothing unexpected happens.
Even short breaks, a mere 15-20 minutes, have been proven to improve energy levels and help people sustain concentration on their work throughout the day. A whole day off is exactly the sort of thing you need to give you a chance to take a look at that pressing problem at work with fresh eyes and renewed motivation.
2. You Can Boost Your Creativity
If you feel uninspired or mentally “stuck in a rut,” a little extra downtime may be what you need to help restore your creativity.
Abundant research has shown that periodic breaks (real breaks, not the kind of break that has you checking your phone for emails from your boss or team at work) are essential when people need to restore creative energy for their jobs.
Just like physical breaks between bouts of hard exercise give your muscles time to restore themselves and strengthen, breaks from the mental rigors of your job give your mind time to process information, solidify memories and find creative angles of approach to old problems.
Naps, meditation and walks in the woods are all little “mini mood-boosters,” for a lot of people, but a whole day away from the routine obligations of life (and your job) is even better.
3. Your Productivity May Improve
You’ve heard the phrase, “work smarter, not harder,” right? Well, here we go again with this science stuff, but there really is a ton of evidence out there that productivity declines when people push themselves too hard for too long.
Sure, the occasional burst of extra activity around a tight deadline can make you feel like you’re accomplishing something special, but you can’t keep that level of energy going all the time without burning out.
Some of the biggest names in history — people like Leonardo da Vinci and Eleanor Roosevelt — people who were famously productive, believed very strongly in naps and frequent periods of rest. They knew it was key to keeping themselves in the right frame of mind when they were working.
You may not be in the position to schedule a nap every day, but you do have Labor Day coming up and the whole weekend ahead. Sometimes, just knowing that you have a day or two with nothing scheduled and nothing you have to do can help you remain focused and stay “all in” at work. In turn, your productivity levels will likely rise.
So, what does this mean for you? Well, take this Labor Day weekend to get outside and play some games in the backyard with your family or indulge in a cookout of your own. Or, maybe grab your brood or your dog and go reconnect with nature for a day in one of the state parks. You’ll be happier, healthier and — believe us — a much better worker as a result.