Why International Workers’ Day is Still Important
by Elizabeth Akass, Editor, Engage Business Media
International Workers’ Day takes place on 1st May, and celebrates the achievements of workers and the working class around the world, and commemorates the lives lost during the Haymarket affair on 4th May, 1886. This event began in Chicago as a peaceful rally for an eight-hour working day, however tragically resulted in four protesters being shot by police after a bomb killed seven police officers.
This historical moment became marked by International Workers’ Day, and went on to have significant influence on political uprisings moving forward, including against the Nazis during World War Two, the Portuguese revolution in 1974, and the revolts against apartheid in the 1980s. In 2000, demonstrations on International Worker’s Day returned to the UK in a more playful form by activists pushing against capitalism.
Today, progress is still being made to improve workers’ rights. Pressure has been put on companies to close the gender pay gap and increase diversity in their staff to advance towards equality for all, and recently the EU improved the rights for those employed in the ‘gig economy’ to lessen the vulnerability often caused by temporary and zero-hour contracts.
There is also an increasingly significant emphasis on the wellbeing of employees, both covering the basics of ensuring health and safety for all, backed up by the British Safety Council and World Day for Safety and Health at Work, and also putting a focus on the mental health of employees to avoid burnout.
A growing number of companies are making changes to improve their employees’ livelihoods and wellbeing in allowing for more flexible working hours when appropriate, and incorporating more uplifting additions to the year to allow staff to have a mental break. These can include finishing early on Fridays, active days out as a team, or even bringing puppies into the office. In some NHS hospitals where the average working day can be extremely stressful and tiring, employees are given subscriptions to the meditation and mental health app ‘Headspace’ to help them cope with longevity in their roles.
These courses of action not only benefit the workers directly, but also in turn provide their employers with healthier and more productive members of staff.
According to an annual survey conducted by mental health charity, Mind: ‘stress and poor mental health costs UK businesses between £33billion and £42billion a year through reduced productivity, high turnover, and sickness absence. This is equivalent to £1,205-£1,560 for every employee in the UK workforce.’ They continued to state that 48% of ‘all respondents have experienced poor mental health at their current job but only half of them shared this with their employers.’
Out of thousands who responded saying that they dealt with poor mental health, a staggering 92% said that it negatively impacted their performance at work. This included ability to concentrate (70% affected), ability to juggle a number of tasks (52% affected), time spent completing tasks (43% affected), ability to make decisions (39% affected), ability to learn new tasks (24% affected), being more likely to get into conflicts with colleagues (21% affected), and being less patient with customers and clients (21% affected).
However, as a result of internal communications and feedback, 62% of those surveyed felt that ‘positive changes’ had been implemented in the workplace. This is further explored by Simplyhealth, who reported from their own survey: ‘respondents whose organisations had health and well-being activities in place during 2017 believe they had positive results, including better employee morale and engagement (44%), a healthier and more inclusive culture (35%), and lower sickness absence (31%).’ This translates into huge financial savings in reduced sick leave being taken, and an increased quality of work being produced by present employees.
Furthermore, according to Stylist Magazine, in 2018 the top five companies that supported the mental health of their staff were: innocent drinks, Ernst & Young, Sweaty Betty, Unilever, and Iceland. From flexible working hours, to counselling, to free breakfasts and gym memberships, these companies are amongst the best in raising the bar for how employees should be looked after in the workplace.
As you can see, International Workers’ Day is still relevant today to highlight the ongoing progress that needs to take place in the workplace, which greatly benefits both the employee and employer. If you would like more information on increasing employee wellness and improving internal relationships within your company, our Internal Communications Conference happening in September, and our new Employee Wellness Conference launching in March 2020 could both provide useful insight into this area, and a platform for sharing innovative ideas with a wealth of brands and organisations.