Tribute to the American Worker

Labor Day, the first Monday in September, is dedicated 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.

The first Labor Day holiday was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882, in New York City, in accordance with the plans of the Central Labor Union.  In 1884 the first Monday in September was selected as the holiday, and the Central Labor Union urged similar organizations in other cities to follow the example of New York and celebrate a “workingmen’s holiday” on that date. In 1885, Labor Day was celebrated in many industrial centers of the country and shortly thereafter became a national holiday.

It is dizzying to consider how many changes have taken place in the workforce since that first Labor Day.  Think about this: most workers in the 1880s worked from sunrise to sunset and performed rote jobs in large factories.  Work was not expected to be comfortable or meaningful.  If it was not dangerous, you were doing great.

In the last twenty years especially, going to work has been transformed into an activity that is intended to provide you with income but also enrich your life, and there are more types of work than ever before.  In particular, these rising trends demonstrate just how different the 21st century workforce is:


Yahoo!’s controversial mandate aside, working from locations other than a traditional office isn’t going anywhere, and in fact, more than 30 million Americans currently work from home at least one day per week.  Modern Americans contend with work/life integration in ways our predecessors never dreamed.


If companies can’t get a good price on labor here, they’re going overseas.  In manufacturing and information technology, this is relatively old news, but in 2013 we see that all kinds of positions are being filled by candidates in foreign countries who offer the same work for lower wages.  How will American workers compete?


This is the policy of permitting employees to bring personally owned mobile devices (laptops, tablets, and smartphones) to their workplace, and use those devices to access privileged company information and applications.  Gone are the days in which the employer controlled every material and technology that passed through employee hands.

Online Collaboration Tools

Who remembers the dry erase board that listed who would complete various tasks and when?   The dry erase board, as well as the corresponding boring status meeting, has mostly been replaced by Web or cloud-based applications that closely track projects and leverage input from far-flung team members.

Distributed Teams

As recently as the 1990s, everyone you worked with sat within a few feet of– or at most a few floors from you.  Now, however, American workers are members of teams dispersed across geographies and time zones and have to contend with the communication and operational challenges the arrangement implies.


In the 1880s, you didn’t know what the big boss was thinking or doing until you went on strike and your union told you.  Today’s leaders, on the other hand, are expected to communicate actively with their employees – and information is shared in a timely and truthful manner.  This also means that employees assume a greater responsibility for their organization’s success.

On this Labor Day, I feel that we should celebrate our survival and adaptation to one of the most complex workplaces the world has ever known.  We have no way of knowing exactly what our workforce will look like in another 130 years, but no doubt American employees will still be driven, passionate, and hardworking as they were back in 1882.

Why not pick up a few free tips to be more productive at work and get home to your family and friends, sooner! Check out the free eBook, below.

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  • sallyedelstein

    Once upon a time, American workers were spurred on at work by a series of motivational posters that hung in factories and offices across the country. Company’s
    such as General Motors, Kodak and Kelloggs all hung these colorful
    posters that were a graphic expression of Good American Work Ethic. A childhood visit to a family run business brought me face to face with those same motivational posters Take a look

  • Chris Thompson

    Great article. I do forget what Labor Day is all about. Most only think of a day off, grilling and traveling to see family and friends. These are all good but remembering the hard work and sacrifice of many workers before is why we have these freedoms today.