by Phil La Duke
A sign hung on the gate of the infamous Nazi death camp, ” Arbeit macht frei” loosely translated as “work sets you free”. As I sit here on Father’s day I inevitably think of my father who died for no better reason than because he went to work and performed his job dutifully and generally without complaint.
We never talked about it much but here was a man that the depression couldn’t kill, nor could World War II, nor the wild shenanigans of seven children cooped up in a three-bedroom ranch with one bathroom.
My dad was a Union man, in fact, he served his fellow Union members faithfully as a member of the bargaining committee. Above just about everything my dad believed in fairness. An honest days work for an honest days pay. This was in the days when corporations and politicians convinced workers that Unions were just corrupt organizations that squandered the worker’s hard-earned Union dues on expense conferences and perks. Before “Right to Work” legislation made it harder to form Unions and had such audacious provisions that were he alive would have killed my dad. Provisions like the one requiring that the Union must represent those mooches who don’t belong to the Union (or pay dues) in labor disputes. This is fundamentally unfair.
But the decrease in the power and influence corresponds to the loss of benefits including, but not limited to, time off. My ex-boss tells of a story of being at a party and listening to the irate anti-union blathering of a fellow party guest about how Unions have destroyed this country. After this boob has spat the last of his vitriol, my ex-boss asked him what he did for a living. “I’m a dentist,” he told him. My ex-boss, to his credit, went on to ask him how many of his patients were blue-collar workers with dental insurance, and how many GOT that dental coverage because of a collective bargaining agreement?
What has any of this to do with health and safety?
As it turns out, researchers are finding that there is a much stronger relationship between worker health and worker safety, in fact, things like fatigue and work-related stress cause higher rates of human error, judgment lapses, and even recklessness.
The wellbeing of the workers plays a direct role in injuries and more companies are waking up to this.
State of American Vacations, Project Time Off https://projecttimeoff.com/reports/state-of-american-vacation-2018/Project: Time Off Reported some good news. 2017 saw an upward tick in the amount of vacation time taken after a steady 15-year decline.
People need to take time off work for their health and wellbeing. Companies often apply pressure, both subtle and overt to discourage people from taking accrued time off. According to the study, “employees…were concerned that taking a vacation would make them appear less dedicated” These workers used only 39% of the time off that they had earned, but what’s worse overall, the average worker only takes 48% of his or her accrued time off.
The report contains even more bad news, “Nearly four-in-ten (39%) Millennials say they find the idea of a workcation – traveling somewhere with the intent to work remotely for all or part of the time – appealing.” Shame on corporate executives who rale against Chinese workers committing suicide at Apple, while at the same time convincing the next generation of workers that sitting in a hotel room in an exotic location like Aruba, or Kankakee Illinois, is the same as taking an honest to God vacation. Any of you who have taken a friend or spouse on a work trip knows that while it may be a lot of things, a vacation it AIN’T. I got creeped out when I read the term “workcation”. It reminded me that Pol Pot referred to his killing fields as “re-education centers”. You call a skunk a striped kitty but it’s still gonna stink.
Work is work, and yes, when I travel for work I try to make the best of it, but it is not the same as a true vacation, where you don’t take your computer, you don’t check your emails, and you don’t call into conference calls because it is just so darned important that you be there.
Some of you are old enough to remember the days before pagers or cell phones or answering machines, where admins took phone messages on little pink slips of paper, and when someone had something truly important to say they called back.
How many times have you said to yourself, “I need a vacation”? I know I have. While it’s not noted in the study, I find the idea of lumping sick leave and vacation time into a single “paid time off” troubling. Should we save our vacation time for when we are so sick that we cannot go to work?
Taking vacations, true vacations, help workers alleviate stress and increase their mental resilience. The study found that workers with more time off were far happier than those that took less time off and companies whose cultures encouraged taking time off performed better financially than those that were apathetic or hostile to the practice.
Holidays and vacation days are more than making people happy, people who are happy in their jobs tend to be less stressed, and people who are less stressed make fewer mistakes. Of course, fewer mistakes means fewer injuries and fewer injuries make for a more profitable and enjoyable workplace.
But back to my dad, in the end, the Company couldn’t save him, the Union couldn’t save him, the Safety function could save him, and medical science couldn’t save him; work ultimately and horrifically set him free. Happy Father’s Day dad, I miss you and thanks for the sacrifices you made to make me the man I am today.