Research says modern Americans work more days each year than medieval peasants. No one is saying that serfs had it great. But they did get frequent holidays, plus at least eight weeks off in the winter, according to historians.
Their workdays were less rigid, too, with time for naps and long lunches. So apparently they had the whole work-life balance thing figured out, centuries before we thought about it.
One thing that medieval peasants didn't have was Labor Day. It's a holiday that should be more than a three-day weekend at the end of summer. It's also an opportunity to think about the value of work and the importance of labor to the economy, businesses and families.
Not that there's anything wrong with long holiday weekends.
Thinking about work makes me think about my family's relationship with work because work was always an important part of my family life.
My dad worked for the same company for nearly 40 years. For most of that time, he almost never talked about work at home. But everyone in my family knew all the men — yes, they were all men — that he worked with. We saw them and their families at weekend bowling leagues, company picnics and weddings. His coworkers were like a stable family.
One summer his union was on strike for more than 100 days. He got a job at a landscape company to help make ends meet. Those were stressful weeks at home.
By the time I was an adult, his work changed. First, he started a new job in the company's downtown headquarters. White short-sleeved dress shirts and ties replaced blue-collar work shirts. He worked on a computer for the first time in his life.
Then, after a few years, he was back in the field, but this time as a supervisor. We traded stories about our middle management experiences.
My mom's work experience was very different. Calling her a stay-at-home parent would be wrong because she had jobs that she could schedule around parenting. The school cafeteria, for example, was perfect, because she was off during the summer.
Her work also changed when I became an adult. She signed on at a temp agency, which she enjoyed because it fit her schedule. She worked in offices, including at many factories. I enjoyed her stories about work, especially the funny ones about rare visits to her offices by the bosses.
Mom and Dad both worked after they "retired." In fact, Mom just turned 85 and still has a couple of part-time jobs, plus regular volunteer gigs. She'd be bored without work.
Meanwhile, I'm finishing this column at 10:30 p.m. at the end of a busy day, as I race to finish our Labor Day issue before the long weekend. I'm not sure whether to blame my upbringing or modern American culture. Because the funny thing is, I kind of enjoy it.
Happy Labor Day.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of the Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.