Tag Archives: Vacation

Labor is the Superior of Capital, and Deserves Much the Higher Consideration

Do you recognize those words? Scholars (and/or) American history buffs just might. They were spoken by one Abraham Lincoln on December 3rd, 1861, as part of his first State of the Union address. The quote comes from very near to the end of the speech; the beginning of the third last paragraph. The sentence on its own is worth pondering, but let’s put it in context:

Now there is no such relation between capital and labor as assumed, nor is there any such thing as a free man being fixed for life in the condition of a hired laborer. Both these assumptions are false, and all inferences from them are groundless.

Labor is prior to and independent of capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration. Capital has its rights, which are as worthy of protection as any other rights. Nor is it denied that there is, and probably always will be, a relation between labor and capital producing mutual benefits. The error is in assuming that the whole labor of community exists within that relation. A few men own capital, and that few avoid labor themselves, and with their capital hire or buy another few to labor for them.

As is clear, Lincoln is referring to what was a major problem at the time — slavery. While those words were initially spoken with regard to slavery, I think that they have a broader application. That is, labor really is the superior of capital and not just in the context of slavery. Without labor, there’d be no capital. Labor is the backbone of any economy — local or global. As a result, it’s frustrating to see how poorly mismanaged the workforce can be.

From a business standpoint, I can understand why managers would want to crimp on labor, both in the number of employees and their However, I see this as extremely short-sighted. Whatever short-term gains are made from this strategy, they’re lost in the longer term when one has to replace the employee because they’ve either quit or because they’re overworked (and needed time off because of stress and/or fatigue).

I wonder if treating labor as if it’s another “expense” or “liability” is endemic to the culture of work in America. If we revisit the chart about vacation from this past summer, we see that just about every country on that list is in Europe and from what we know about the culture of many European countries, there’s an air of slowness that you just don’t find in America. Maybe it’s that European businesses have already learned this lesson of treating the workforce like an expense and realizing that it’s just easier to pay up front. How different would business look like in the US if the workweek went from 40 to 30 and the number of mandatory paid vacation days went from 0 to 20? Even if the US workweek went from 40 to 37.5 as is the case in Canada, how different would things be, then?

This focus on the short-term seems to be in more places than one. It’s even present in the way public companies are structured — they have to report their earnings every quarter. That is, every 90 days — 90! — a company gives a report to their shareholders (and the public) about their earnings. Predominantly, people are looking to see whether a company “beat” estimates. If (when?) a company doesn’t meet estimates, the stock price usually takes a tumble. But what if this incessant push to meet estimates and focus on these 90-day windows doesn’t allow for an appropriate longer term strategy? What if this 90-day crunch is preventing a company from pursuing a strategy that would make it far more sustainable in the long run and if they attempted to pursue that strategy, their stock price would plummet?

I don’t have all the answers to these questions, but I believe the beginning of the answer starts with labor. Companies that honor and respect their workforce tend to perform better.

If You Want a Successful and Sustainable Company, Focus on the Workforce

Several months ago in one of those posts where I write about a bunch of ideas, but don’t flesh any of them out, I wrote the following:

Focus on Labor — I’ve never been the CEO or a highly placed Vice President of a company, but from an outsider’s perspective, I always have a hard time understanding the lack of focus on the labor force. At times, it really looks like labor is the key to success. If the labor force is well taken care of, production and profits tend to do well. It reminds me of that post I did about sustainability and pitchers. The relation here is that when management takes care of the labor force, it is with an eye towards long-term sustainability.

I still believe that this is an important idea. Without the workforce, where would a company’s profits be? Without the workforce, where would the economy be? Even after the rise of the robots, I still think it’ll be really important for companies to take care of their workforce. It turns out, I’m not the only one with this opinion.

From Henry Blodget, CEO and and Editor of Business Insider:

If you watch TV, you’ll be led to believe that the problem with the U.S. economy is that one political team or the other is ruining the country.

A sharp drop in government spending this year is, in fact, temporarily hurting economic growth, but that’s not the real problem.

The real problem is that American corporations, which are richer and more profitable than they have ever been in history (see chart below), have become so obsessed with “maximizing short-term profits” that they are no longer investing in their future, their people, and the country.

This short-term greed can be seen in many aspects of corporate behavior, from scrimping on investment to obsessing about quarterly earnings to fretting about daily fluctuations in stock prices. But it is most visible in the general cultural attitude toward average employees.

Employees are human beings. They devote their lives to creating value for customers, shareholders, and colleagues. And, in return, at least in theory, they share in the rewards of the value created by their team.

In theory.

In practice, American business culture has become so obsessed with maximizing short-term profits that employees aren’t regarded as people who are members of a team.

Rather, they are regarded as “costs.”

And “costs,” as we all know, are supposed to be reduced as much as is humanly possible (except the “costs” of the salaries of senior management and investors–those are supposed to be increased).

Bingo! Mr. Blodget hits the nail on the head. Regarding employees as costs is a fundamental mistake in thinking. As we know, our words are important. Not only for ourselves, but for those around us. He continues:

Whenever you suggest to folks that it doesn’t have to be this way, that some companies can and do balance the interests of shareholders with the interests of customers and employees–and, in so doing, create a symbiotic relationship that supports all of these constituencies–folks call you a “socialist.”

This is a strange insult, because the government has nothing to do with this. But, nevertheless, “socialist” is the label you get branded with if you suggest that the senior managers and owners of America’s corporations should share more of their vast wealth with the employees who create it.

This view of capitalism is that it is a sort of Lord-Of-The-Flies economic system in which the only consideration should be “every man for himself.” In this style of capitalism, leaders do not manage teams and organizations in a way that creates value for everyone–customers, shareholders, and employees. Rather, in this style of capitalism, a handful of winners extract as much value as they can from hapless losers who don’t have the skills, knowledge, or time necessary to “demand a raise” or “go get a better job.”

It doesn’t have to be this way.

There is no capitalist law that says companies have to view employees as “costs” and pay them as little as possible.

Senior managers and owners can choose to share more of a company’s wealth with the people who generate it. They can choose to make only reasonable profits, while still generating compelling financial returns. And they can choose to pay their team-mates living wages instead of viewing them as “costs” and extracting every penny of possible value from them.

If American corporations were struggling to earn money these days, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

But they aren’t.

American corporations have the highest profits and profit margins in history.

American corporations can afford to pay their employees better, hire more employees, and invest more in their future and the country’s future.

But American corporations aren’t doing that.

Instead, American corporations are choosing to divert as much of their value as possible to their owners and senior managers.

Doing this is not a law of capitalism.

It’s a choice.

And it is a choice, unfortunately, that is destroying America’s middle class, robbing American consumers (a.k.a., “employees”) of spending power, and, ironically, hurting the growth of the same corporations that are making this choice.

If your customers are strapped, your company can’t grow.

And, right now, American companies are choosing to impoverish their customers (employees), while skimming off as much wealth as possible for themselves.

The idea of viewing employees as costs is perfectly in keeping with the idea that the US doesn’t require any paid vacation daysWhat kind of a company do you want to work for: one that treats its employees as assets or one that treats its employees as liabilities?

No-Vacation Nation: What Kind of Balance Do You Want?

Way back in February, I wrote a post about a 25-hour workweek that used data from the OECD. This data showed the paid vacation and paid holidays for OECD nations. In particular, this data showed the requirements for paid vacations and paid holidays for some of the OECD countries. There’s been an update to the data, so I’ve included the graphic below:

You may notice a couple of things. First, it looks very similar to the first one that I embedded back in February. The second thing you may notice… the United States continues its perseverance in not mandating paid vacation. Every time I see data like this, I’m astonished that one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world doesn’t see fit to require that its people are required to have vacation. Of course, the lack of vacation probably contributed to the US becoming one of the wealthiest countries in the history of the world, but what good is all that wealth if you can’t enjoy it? What good is money if you’re took sick to spend it?

The declining state of health probably had something to do with the separation of one’s mental health from one’s body’s health, but the lack of vacation has probably accelerated it. Of course, just because vacation isn’t mandated by the government doesn’t mean that companies don’t offer it. In order to stay competitive, companies have to offer their employees vacation or they’ll work elsewhere. That being said, there’s a pervasive culture of overworking yourself in the US. Not only on a national-level (lack of holidays), but also at the employee-level.

Take a peak inside a big firm and you’ll often hear about employees who participate in the game of one-upmanship in trying to see who’s worked more in a given week. “I worked 60 hours last week trying to get this report finished for a client.” “Yeah, well I worked 65 hours last week finishing a report…”

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At first, one may say that this is putting people and the culture way out of balance. Well, one would be wrong. Balance has a way of maintaining an equilibrium. That is, balance will always be balance. Confused? Think about it like this: stand up from your chair. Are you standing? Good. Right now, you’re balanced. You have some of your weight on your left foot and some of your weight on your right foot. Balanced. Now, shift your weight to right. You’ll notice that you didn’t fall over, right? You simply have more weight on your right side than on your left side. Balanced. Now, lift your left foot off the ground. All of your weight is currently on your right foot. You’re still balanced, right? Now, begin to bend at the waist to outstretch your right arm forwards… while stretching your left leg backwards. At some point, you may fall over in attempting to do this. That’s okay because I’m sure you get the picture by now.

At each stage of this exercise, you’re body was balanced. You were balanced when you were standing straight, you were balanced when your weight was on your right foot, you were balanced when you lifted your left foot, and you would have been balanced had you been able to outstretch your right arm and left foot. It’s simply a question of what kind of balance do you want. Do you prefer the balance where you’re standing comfortable with both feet on the ground? How about the balance where you’re lifting one foot off of the ground?

While the lack of mandated vacation in the US may seem like there’s no balance, there has to be. It just might be manifesting itself in different ways. You have a choice — what kind of balance do you want?

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Note: if you’re looking for a creative way to add more vacation days to the US, how about making every religious holiday a national holiday?

Trying to Form a New Habit: Take a Vacation

Have you ever wanted to make changes in your life, but haven’t been able to stick to those changes? What about a New Year’s Resolution? If I’m being honest, there have been changes that I’ve tried to make that I haven’t been able to keep up. However, I think I may have discovered a trick to making it easier to stick to a new habit. (Truth be told, I’m probably not the first person to make this discovery, but I don’t remember reading it in any of the literature on habit-forming and/or making changes. Of course, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t.)

There have been some new habits that I’ve tried to form over the past couple of weeks. One of those habits is practicing French. (I’m Canadian and I think I ought to know both of the national languages. Plus, it makes good sense to be able to speak more than one language and since I had some training in French, I thought it was the best one to start with.) Anyways, I’ve tried to practice French. At least once I day, I make a point to practice French. Although, this hasn’t been as easy as I thought it would be.

If you’ve ever tried to create a new habit, you know what it’s like: you’re used to doing certain things throughout your day and as a result, it can be difficult to try to squeeze something else into the day — even if you’ve removed some of the other things that you used to do!

I recently returned from a trip this past Monday. As a result, I thought that this was a perfect time to try and carry out a new routine. Having been away from my “regular” routine for the last 10+ days, I can now impose a new routine. I’ve only been doing it for a few days, but so far, it’s been working great. If we look at it from a physics standpoint, it makes sense. The way I went about my day was an “object in motion,” and until that “object in motion” was acted upon, it was going to maintain its course. My attempts to affect its course weren’t strong enough to move that object in motion, but when I left the country, the object was acted upon strongly enough. Inertia is also another concept that applies here. Inertia is the idea that an object will resist a change to its state of motion (or rest).

So, if you’re trying to make some changes in your life, consider going on vacation or getting out of town for a few days to shakeup your routine. It just may be the change you need to make the change you need!

 

How Does a 25-Hour Workweek Sound to You?

Vocation is a very important part of our lives in today’s society. Vocation, usually, gives our lives a sense of purpose. At times, however, our vocation can get in the way of our lives. How? Overwork. This past summer, I linked to a couple of articles at The Atlantic that illustrate this point quite perfectly. The first: No-Vacation Nation: Why Don’t Americans Know How to Take a Break?. And the second: The Case for Vacation: Why Science Says Breaks Are Good for Productivity.

There’s a really important graphic from the first link. I’ve included it below, (but if it’s too hard to read, click on it and it will take you to a bigger version of it).

If you’ll notice, the US is absolute last on this list of OECD countries. Certainly not something that the US should be proud of.

Earlier this fall, I posted a TEDTalk of someone from the New Economics Foundation arguing for a 21-hour workweek. A couple of weeks ago, I came across a news release that the head of the Max Planck research centre was arguing for a 25-hour workweek. There are some key points:

When you’re 20, you would rather spend more time with your friends. When you’re 35, you want time with your kids. But then when you reach 70, you have far too much time on your hands.

This scenario probably sounds familiar to many people today. But there are good arguments for changing this. We should aim for more leisure time in our youth and instead work a bit more when we get older.

”There is strong evidence that elderly people who work part-time are healthier than those who don’t work at all and just sit at home. This is simply because working improves people’s health,” he says.

“The benefits are not just psychological because being an active part of society makes you people feel good about themselves, but also physically, since you use both your brain and your body when you’re working.”

There are also some good interpersonal arguments in support of spreading our working hours over a longer period in our lives.

”The main argument is that this would give young people aged 20-30 more time to care for their children, do sports and other important activities that improve their lives,” says the professor.

”The way it is today, young people are slaving their way through work, looking forward to a long retirement. But why not move that retirement period around a bit so that young people get more valuable time off work?”

How does all of that sound?

The thing is, there’s a culture of overworking. Working 60+ hours a week should not be a badge of honor — it should be a badge of ludicrousness (save for some extreme examples). Vocation is important, yes, but so are other things in life. And, if productivity is what you’re after, it’s important to understand that overworking one’s self is the perfect way to limit productivity. Remember that second link I share above:

It’s typical for families to celebrate the month of August by shutting down the computer and skipping town. From a raw numbers perspective, this counts as lost work. But that’s a short-sighted view, psychologists now say. In fact, by serving as the least productive month for millions of workers, August unexpectedly serves as a productivity-booster.

Just as small breaks improve concentration, long breaks replenish job performance. Vacation deprivation increases mistakes and resentment at co-workers, Businessweek reported in 2007. “The impact that taking a vacation has on one’s mental health is profound,” said Francine Lederer, a clinical psychologist in Los Angeles specializing told ABC News. “Most people have better life perspective and are more motivated to achieve their goals after a vacation, even if it is a 24-hour time-out.”

As with most things in business and in life, understanding the different between long-term gains and short-term profits is of the utmost importance with regard to the issue of the workweek.

Replacing the 40-hour Workweek with a 30- or 21-hour Workweek

This past summer, I posted a couple of articles from The Atlantic to Facebook. They both had to do with vacation — more specifically — the lack of vacation in the US when compared to other countries. As America’s health declines, I can’t help but think that there’s something to the idea of a shorter workweek and taking better care of ourselves.

This morning, I came across a TEDxTalk from one of the prominent members of the New Economics Foundation in London. In the video, she makes a rather compelling case for a shorter workweek. I don’t know that I agree with reducing the workweek to 21 hours, but I certainly think the conversation should be had as to the appropriate length of the workweek, especially in the context of declining health.

When was the Last Time You Unplugged?

I’ve been in the midst of traveling a lot recently (), DC to Ottawa, Ottawa to Toronto, Toronto to Niagara Falls, back to Toronto, and now back to Ottawa (and in about a week), back to DC. In this time, especially when I was going from LA to DC, I have, somewhat out of necessity, had to “unplug” from my usual comings and goings on the internet. In this time, I have rediscovered how liberating it is to be away from technology.

Do you remember the last time you unplugged?

It might sound scary at first, turning off the blackberry, putting away the iPad, shunning your iPod, leaving the TV room, and just being with your “thoughts.” Or even just being quiet with yourself. I don’t have the statistics in front of me, but I would bet that there are a fair number of people who have tried this temporary “unplugged-ness” who, at first, were probably quite anxious about it. Maybe there were trepidations about what would happen to x, y, or z while they weren’t able to respond immediately. Eventually (at least that’s the hope), these types of people realize that the greater world (and even their more immediate world) still goes on without their interacting with it. Strange, huh?

In preparing to write this post, I did a few searches and found that there are nearly 6 million results for the search query: “.” An interesting result: .

Straight from the :

It’s an epidemic. It can strike anyone. It begins harmlessly enough… maybe with a cell phone, an online social network profile, or an IM. But before long, the electronic screens invade every corner of your life.

There’s a name for this tragic and extremely annoying condition: Screen Addiction.

But there is hope. Send an intervention to someone you care about! Help them take the first step towards recovery.

There’s also a and a form you can fill out to send to your friend with a number of drop-down menus, which, depending on your mood, can be quite comedic (or quite unfortunate, should the intended recipient actually be exhibiting some of the tendencies). Overall, I think the site could be quite handy for an “electronic” intervention (which may be the only way of reaching someone who has a fear of unplugging).

I think the most important thing to consider with regard to “unplugging” is moderation. Someone who spends 14 hours a day with their laptop or the blackberry glued to their thumbs is probably, at some point, going to need a day or two where this isn’t the case. I can’t imagine it’s very welcomed by the body (even if their ). In the end, you can’t force your friends to “unplug” themselves from their technology, but you can lead by example. As the title asks, “when was the last time you unplugged?”