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WORKERS, UNITE! | How May Day Inspires Modern Leaders

In the US, May Day conjures images of flowers and maypoles, and has its roots in pagan celebrations of spring and renewal. But did you know that May 1st is also an international day of worker solidarity?

And the first one in the U.S. wasn’t so peaceful. Later called the Haymarket Affair, on May 1, 1886, Chicago and other cities were the sites of major union demonstrations to promote the eight hour workday, among other worker protections. Days-long protests were marked by real violence and civic disruption, as workers brought attention to dangerous and abusive working conditions throughout the U.S.

These actions resulted in new laws that saved workers from 16+ hour workdays, made unsafe factory practices illegal, and provided for other protections we take for granted now. Because of its socialist roots, the U.S. doesn’t officially acknowledge this celebration of workers and labor, but internationally, it’s a big deal.

Many modern workers still experience protest-worthy conditions. But we don’t imagine May as a time when desk workers will take to the streets to demand better task chairs and free coffee in the break room. However, we came upon an exercise that leaders could find useful: Using May as a time for leaders to put themselves in their employees shoes, and view their work environment through a retention lens.

An article from ADP focuses this approach through Bridging the Gap. It suggests (and we agree) that spending time with employees, asking for input, and creating opportunities for employees to share challenges, victories and workplace wishes are ways to increase engagement and learn from teams. That the key to happy employees is “listening to their needs, rather than assuming you know what they value.”

With the help of HR, leaders can convene conversations through a company intranet, a social platform, and in-person facilitated conversations. Leaders who treat these engagements as an information-gathering will gain helpful intelligence about what employees need, and what’s working well.

In our experience, a new task chair actually CAN be the difference between someone wanting to come to work or having a miserable experience at their desk. But we’ll never know until we ask. So this May, we’re encouraging leaders to commit to conversations that reveal these requirements. It’s a brave edge to walk (thank you, Brene Brown!) and your team will thank you for it.

Your fellow leader in practicing bravery,

Mary Frances Hogan President + Ringmaster burkeMICHAEL+

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