Things You May Not Have Known About The American Workplace!

Do you ever wonder where our modern American workplace culture originated?

You probably learned in your Social Studies classes about early American farms and shops, the Industrial Revolution, the sweatshops, the Pullman strike, child labor, the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, the New Deal labor laws, the industrial effort during World War II, the rise of technology and the Twenty First Century knowledge workers. The American Economy has moved from small shopkeepers and farmers to factory workers to knowledge workers in a very short period of 250 years. We have only had employees in the United States for the past 150 years.

As the late Professor Peter Drucker said, in business, culture eats strategy for lunch. For example, if you are an employer, your job applicant may believe that she is entitled to two weeks paid vacation. However, no Arizona or federal law mandates paid vacation. In workplace lore, two weeks paid vacation is a given. Why? Because early Twentieth Century union collective bargaining agreements provided for this benefit. Paid time off is a benefit that is up to the employer. The job applicant may also believe that he is entitled to one hour for lunch and two 15-minute work breaks. Arizona law does not require any meal or work breaks. Federal law does not require a meal break, but there are regulations about when and how they must be paid or unpaid. The only work break required now by federal law is the nursing mothers’ break to express milk for up to one year after the birth of her baby. Paid work and meal breaks are voluntary benefits. The job applicant may also think that she will get ten paid holidays. Neither Arizona nor federal law requires pay for holidays. Again, paid holidays came from the collective bargaining environment. Paid holidays are voluntary benefits. The only mandatory benefits are worker compensation, unemployment insurance, and Social Security. The rest are part of our workplace “culture,” something that is historical; not legal.

The US Department of Labor has a fun new program to identify those books which have shaped the American workplace. Check it out at

Until next time….



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