For many of us, September is the other January. Even though I haven't been in a classroom myself for many years, September still has the back-to-school atmosphere of new notebooks, sharp pencils, and a fresh start. Each year, September's Labor Day holiday marks the end of summer and the return to the workday routines.
This Labor Day, however, is different from previous Labor Days. It will be a particularly important milestone: The next day, September 7, feels like it will be a day of reckoning. The pandemic period isn't over, of course. The Delta variant's great virulence has caused many workplaces to adjust, yet again, their expectations for a return to in-person work. But after Labor Day, when the holiday weekend is over and the kids are back in school, for many businesses the "next normal"--whatever that may look like, and however it may continue to evolve--will begin.
Given these extraordinary circumstances, I have a proposal. Each year, Labor Day celebrates the contributions of workers. This year, I suggest we use Labor Day as an opportunity to consider our own labor, our own companies, and our own work lives.
Many of us spend a big chunk of our lives engaged with work. Whether you're an entrepreneur, an executive, or self-employed, navigating shifting remote and hybrid models and the press of deadlines and to-do lists make it hard to step back to take a wider view.
We all need some kind of reminder to reflect.
I propose that we use Labor Day as this reminder. It's a chance to ask big, uncomfortable questions: "Should I give employees the flexibility to work remotely in new cities?" "Should I start a new business?" "Should I take the leap into entrepreneurship?" "Do I need more training?"
And the biggest question of all: "What do I want from life, anyway?"
It's also a chance to consider how small changes might boost happiness, morale, and productivity on teams, like offering stipends to perk up home office spaces, enhanced benefits around childcare and fitness, or even flower or meal kit deliveries to show appreciation. Sometimes, small changes give a surprisingly big boost in productivity, focus, and energy. And this year, Labor Day holds more weight than it has in recent memory: A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reshape our lives, starting with work.
The massive disruption of the pandemic shutdown in 2020 gave many people a chance to ask big questions. While change brought tremendous hardship and suffering, it also opened up new possibilities. For some, enhanced unemployment benefits meant the opportunity to pursue self-employment. Others got a taste of a life with more flexibility, without the hassle of a daily commute or grueling work travel, and in the comfort of sweatpants. This kind of forced re-consideration probably comes just once in a lifetime. It's up to employers to meet this moment--to retain, and attract, top talent.
I've spent years researching practical ways we can make our lives happier, healthier, more productive, and more creative. And I use myself as a guinea pig, testing every idea on myself. In the course of everyday life, it's hard to find the time or energy to ask ourselves big questions. So, as part of my investigations into happiness, I've become a champion of using major holidays as a catalyst for re-evaluation.
We can use January 1 to identify changes in the upcoming year, Valentine's Day to celebrate our sweethearts, the Fourth of July to ask ourselves how we could better live up to our country's highest ideals. While we could reflect on these aims at any time during the year, I find that what can be done at any time is often done at no time.
This year, Labor Day can remind us to pause--to review what we've learned from this pandemic period, and to reflect on what we want from our work lives going forward. For business owners and entrepreneurs, Labor Day can be a time to refine our career goals, to make sure we get the energy and satisfaction that comes from working toward the life we really want.
Research shows--and I've certainly found this to be true in my own life--that periodically taking time to reflect, set goals, identify problems, and weigh solutions helps us to achieve our aims. Sure, it's a good idea. But who can remember to do it? Labor Day can be that reminder.
I've used Labor Day for work reflection for years, and this practice has helped me change course. One year, it inspired me to start a new book project; another year, to buy an additional desk monitor. For you, this might finally be the year you leave your 9-to-5 and take the jump into entrepreneurship, or pursue that ambitious deal. It's easy to overlook the larger meaning of Labor Day and think of it as the fun holiday that marks the end of summer. Instead, let's use this Labor Day as an opportunity to reset: To ask ourselves the big questions and find more clarity and purpose in the coming year. This year, and every year to come.