Labor Day: Devoted to Work/Life Balance Since 1894

Written by: Tiffany Ford, MA, LPC, NCC




I don’t know about you–but this time of year always seems to be so chaotic. Our “traffic holiday” linked with summer break ended when school resumed. If you are a parent with school-aged children, this time of year also means maintaining schedules, practices, parent meetings and seeking out ways to make sure you can prepare meals. For working parents, the notion of “work-life balance” seems to be an unachievable dream. For students (especially students with jobs or other after school commitments) “work-life balance” is confusing: work as in school or as in an actual job or sports? And “life balance?” What is that? Does it mean being able to hang out with friends or does it entail family obligations? The answer is yes. Yes to all of it. And–it is essential to our mental health.


Labor Day is right around the corner. Although this day is often a much-welcomed day off for some–and a great time to go shopping for discounts, it is also a perfect time to reflect and gain some insight into the reasons for this “day off.”


Have you ever thought about what life must have been like for the average, every day American towards the end of the 19th century? Think about this…In 1890 (when the government first documented workers' hours), the average workweek for full-time factory workers was 100 hours. Many other industries required more than 100 hours per week and most children knew no other life other than working alongside their parents to help support their family.



Children often worked as many hours as their parents in the 1890s.


I for one cannot imagine a more “unbalanced” existence. Work must have dominated the lives of workers. How did they manage it? They still had friends and families. They still had obligations. Perhaps the underlying reason workers strove for an eight-hour workday and struggled to gain workplace benefits–like paid holidays and paid maternity leave, protections for child laborers and acquiring some health care safeguards is rooted in an inherent understanding of the need for work-life balance.

Obviously, work is important. Besides (hopefully) providing necessary funds to function, it serves as a place to engage, think, problem-solve and form professional relationships. In other words, our work can prove to be an important element in our mental wellbeing. But, too much work–or overexerting oneself, dedicating too much of ourselves to our work and/or prioritizing work over all other elements of our lives can be harmful for mental wellbeing. Thus, the need for balance. Here’s what we know:

• Exposure to prolonged workplace stress is associated with the development of mental exhaustion, or burnout.

•Mental exhaustion causes dysfunctional physical and emotional symptoms and changes in behavior.

•Burnout is associated with heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and suppressed immunity.

Ignoring symptoms of burnout or trying to push through mental exhaustion has emotional and physical consequences. If you can, use Labor Day as an excuse to take a step back, re-evaluate your priorities, do you struggle with balancing work versus life responsibilities?


One growing trend is “quiet quitting.” If you haven’t heard of this phenomenon, here is a great article on the topic:

https://www.npr.org/2022/08/19/1117753535/quiet-quitting-work-tiktok

Some experts applaud the idea of “quiet quitting” as it could actually be better defined as carving out time to take care of yourself. While I would never encourage anyone to completely ignore work obligations and fail to meet expectations, I certainly think it is important to reevaluate the benefits of constantly “going the extra mile” at work while sacrificing the needs within your life outside of work.


Even the Mayo Clinic understands the importance of understanding how to detach from work and care for yourself in this article:

https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/work-life-balance/art-20048134


This Labor Day, I challenge you to stay out of the stores and totally unplug. Take a mental health day and honor the American worker instead. What does Labor Day mean to you?