Monday, September 3, 2012

No More Holidays Till Thanksgiving

This would be a work day for me if it wasn’t Labor Day and if there were such a day in Canada it would be Labour Day. How do I know that? I try to be aware what our neighboring countries do just as I know that in Mexico it would be Dia del Trabajo except that I don’t think they celebrate it. If I were energetic I would do two minutes of research and find out exactly what we are celebrating. But I am content with vaguely understanding that it has something to do with the labor movement and unions and things. It takes no research for me to figure out that this is the last holiday before Thanksgiving which is a pretty long way off.

I’m kind of surprised that no Presidential candidate has included more holidays in their platform. I take that back. I am surprised that President Obama has not done this. This is not something that Mr. Romney could consider since he would be keenly aware of the fact that when we have a holiday it is business owners that foot the cost. For holidays and vacations businesses pay their employees for not working, and sometimes have to pay those employees that must work extra money. Businesses pay employees for not showing up to work.

Canadian companies offer more holidays for their Canadian employees and much more vacation time. I know this because I work for a Canadian company even though my office is in Houston. In fact I used to work for a Houston based company until the Canadian company bought us out. This is further evidence that those darn foreigners are taking over. So my fellow employees and I left our U.S. company on a Friday and reported to work for a Canadian company the following Monday. It didn’t take long for us to figure out that our counterparts in Canada sure took an awful lot of time off. So at our first employee meeting, you can bet the first question was, “How come you guys get so many holidays and so much vacation and we don’t?”

The short answer was,” …because you are in the U.S. and we are in Canada.” In the U.S. our company must meet the norms of like U.S. companies. In Canada they must meet the norms of like Canadian companies in order to attract employees. The response was, “Yeah, but…” and “That doesn’t seem right.”

So we are in a self governing cycle. In the U.S. we meet the standards of other companies. No company has an incentive to offer more so other companies can follow suit, so everything stays the same.

But how is it that Canadian businesses can absorb the cost of doing business this way, and the U.S. can’t? Now it is easy to think of business as huge companies making billions of dollars. I like to think of a business as the independent Dry Cleaner that I take my clothing to.  I figure they have ten employees and they are closed today – Labor Day. So those ten employees are being paid for no production. That must be quite a hit on their profit.
Me Being Productive in Canada

I have traveled to Canada quite a few times and businesses seem to be doing well. Their economy seems to be pretty robust and they didn’t suffer the turmoil that seems to have affected everyone else. They maintain a pretty tight regulatory rein on their banking and financial systems. By our standards Canada is pretty liberal. They seem to handle a lot of holidays and a whole lot of vacation time without batting an eyelid. It is perplexing.

I can only conclude that it is attitude.

For over a century it has been drilled into us the glory of hard work, earn your way, and no slacking. This, I think, is a Christian ethic. What ye sow so shall ye reap. Hard work has its just reward. In fact, a job well done is its own reward. It is probably not too bold to suggest that this attitude is what propelled us to what was once the greatest manufacturing and highest productive Mecca of the world. This is truly commendable.

But we have reached a point of pointless productivity, I think. With my computer I can now do in three hours what it would have taken me a week to do thirty years ago. Within two days I can accomplish a month of 1970 work. So I have progressed way beyond fruitful productivity and I now attack ‘what if’ scenarios and ‘it would be nice if’ tasks and then buttress that with meetings to address reorganizing everything. The stuff that must be done to keep the business profitable is taken care of in short order. Then I wonder about what can be done better or faster or different which too many times is self defeating. Maybe I exaggerate a little, but really not too much.

Automation, whether it is the dry cleaners that puts bar codes and scans everything to auto manufacturing with robotic welding to a house builder that cannot conceive of working without a nail gun, has created a productivity overflow. We long ago reached a productivity saturation point, and now we have overflow. And we won’t acknowledge it.

This is why I figure that Canadian businesses can afford to take a hit on productivity by offering more holidays and more vacation. They acknowledge the productivity overflow. This is why I figure the U.S. could too, but we won’t acknowledge it. Am I missing the boat somewhere?

So enjoy your Labor Day. It is a long way to Thanksgiving.


  1. Yup, you Americans can learn a lot from us folks north of the 49th parallel. In addition to enjoying Labour Day, we also know how to afford universal health care and tap maple syrup directly from the trees. The cold air keeps our brains frosty so we can figure stuff out.

  2. May 1st is celebrated as "Dia de los Trabajadores" (Day of the Workers) in Mexico.

  3. My company has an extraordinary amount of holidays for a US company; not that I'm complaining. But I think you have just hit on something key here. In fact, I think I shall throw your name into the hat for the Presidential race, because God knows, we could use some common sense up there in Washington.

  4. I don't think much about paid or unpaid holidays--it's the way of the self-employed. All I have to do is remember when the banks and post offices are closed!

    ...and I'm glad to see you back! :)

  5. I've always thought it would be superb to go live in someplace like Europe where they get like 6 weeks of "holiday" - who knows, I might get to do that yet!! And I'm quite sure my Christian values won't get in the way of that pleasure.. ;P

    Hope all is well my friend :)

  6. Yes, you make lots of sense... and it's not just Canada that has better schedules, either - I've heard that many European countries have a long-ish break in the middle of the work day, when people go out to lunch, or nap, or walk around and de-stress. Sometimes it's the company and not the country that has the right idea... like Microsoft and others (usually creative-minded folks) who have game rooms, relaxation stations, and other amenities available to their employees during the work day.

  7. Uh, we at the good old Post Office had Columbus Day, of all things, and Veteran's Day also before Thanksgiving. The day after Columbus Day was always the biggest fattest mail-volume day of the year, by far. Election mailings and Christmas catalogs were in full swing and absolutely nobody took Columbus Day off so all of that was waiting for us on Tuesday. To this day, even retired four years, I associate the day after Columbus Day with a hot bath and heavy alcohol consumption.

  8. If you think America's a long way from admitting the productivity overflow, Korea's at least 100 years away from it. ALL THEY DO is work. There are as many holidays here as there are in the U.S.--more, even--but you don't get three-day weekends for them. You get the day off, and that's it. Even for Christmas: on the 24th and the 26th, you're working. And if you think the adults push themselves hard at work, that's nowhere close to how hard the students are pushed at school. They rise at seven o'clock, and after school and their various extracurricular lessons end, it's two or three in the morning. Small wonder Korea has one of the highest teen suicide rates (and the adults are all smokers and alcoholics).

    Productivity overflow, man. Productivity overflow. I'll grant you that this work ethic in Korea (which is spawned not from Christian mores but from the Asian group-before-the-individual code of honor) has allowed the country to be a top contender in the world market, which is saying something for a tiny peninsula only 100,000 square kilometers. But at what cost? When does it stop being "we're doing this to remain competitive" and start being "we're just doing this out of habit"? And at what cost? Kids killing themselves and adults drinking themselves to death?

  9. I'd say it's a problem for sure, but it's the how it got that way that bothers me. I spent most of my life working for labor unions, or for management in a labor relations capacity. Having spent so many years on both sides of the table, I think I have a pretty good take on how much the dance these folks do with each other has adversely damaged not only both sides, but our country as well. Just one more book project relegated to the back burner. Way back...

  10. Ya..but our Thanksgiving is the beginning of we don't have to long to wait:)!!

  11. So what happens on Columbus Day in October in the US?