Tomorrow we celebrate Labor Day, which arose out of the labor movement and aims to focus our attention to the “social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.”
Thanks to the workers who came before us, we now enjoy many workplace protections and characteristics that we most likely take for granted today: workplace safety standards and regulations, child labor laws, anti-discrimination protections, the 40-hour work week and weekends without work, a wide range of employee benefits, reasonable wages, etc.
I, for one, would not like to work in the conditions common during the height of the industrial revolution.
However, though we enjoy many employment protections and safety benefits today, what rights, if any, do employees really have or should they have in the modern workplace? Is there a meaningful difference between what we may argue to be moral rights and legal or contractual rights in the workplace? What is the most appropriate way to make sense of the different meanings of our “right to work.” Is it appropriate to talk about an employee’s “right” or expectations for due process within an “employment at will” environment? The list of related questions can go on and on. And each has potentially significant implications for organizations striving to attract and retain the best talent and stay competitive in a hyper-competitive economy.
With the ever-shifting professional landscape in business, increased global interconnectedness, the dramatically altered and ever-shifting psychological contract between employer and employee, and the shifting desires of different age cohorts within the labor force, how can we effectively approach these and related questions? How does such a dialogue matter to the “… social and economic achievements of American workers…” or the “… strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country” as we continue into the New Economy?
I am a firm believer in creating organizations that treat all employees with dignity and respect. Employers have both a moral and legal obligation to protect employee rights, to avoid employee exploitation in all of its forms, and to create safe organizations and cultures where employees are supported and empowered to do their best work.
On this Labor Day, I hope we can all think carefully about how we can better honor the plight of the workers who came before us and work to ensure that the experience of our employees in our workplace is positive, that we see them as complete individuals, and that we can lift and serve to help everyone feel more needed, wanted, and valued at work.