Waterloo. It sounds ironic, but it was in Waterloo, NY on May 5, 1866 that the first Memorial Day observation took place. Originally known as Decoration Day, this holiday was set aside to honor the soldiers who had died in the Civil War.

While Memorial Day is the day we pause to remember the lives of our fellow citizens that were sacrificed while serving their country, it also has become the opening weekend of the summer season. As we enjoy the Indy 500, golf, tennis and a day at the beach, we shouldn’t lose sight of the simple rituals of earlier celebrations – the shops were closed, the flags flew at half mast, while family and friends decorated the graves of their loved ones.

What does Memorial Day mean to your business? For many of us its a time to take a day off and enjoy the first long weekend of the summer season. For those in the recreation industry its an opportunity to work for the first big payday of the summer.

But for all businesses, as we remember those who gave their lives for our country, it’s a good time to think about those who dedicate their lives to their work.

Work is important to us. It is not merely our means of support, it is, to a large extent, how we see ourselves in the world. I don’t mean that our work rivals God, family or country, but it is a way in which we differentiate ourselves from others. It is largely the way in which the world views us.

If you are skeptical, read the obituary column. “John Doe, banker, writer or salesman.” Even on the exit end of life we are seen through our work.

Despite all the denials, a job is always more than “just a job”. The powerful implication of the frequency of the question, “What do you do?”, is that work is important to us. Regardless of how much talk is directed at waiting for lunch, waiting for the day to end, waiting for the weekend, waiting for vacation and finally waiting for retirement, our work is far more important to us than just a means of support.

This simple fact of the importance of work is what forms the basis for all of the “make work meaningful” theories of management. Forget all the bells, whistles and window dressing that accompany these management theories. To better manage your business, just understand the basic fact that supports these theories. Despite all the grumbling and the moaning, our work is powerfully important to us all. More than we ever outwardly admit.

That’s what “Semper Fidelis” is all about. Nobody complains more than a Marine. The food, the mission, the equipment and the pay. It’s all the worst is what you hear. But it’s seldom that the question, “What do you do?”, is not answered with pride when the response is “I’m a Marine”.

Time after time studies have indicated that the most difficult jobs, in the most arduous circumstances have the employees with the highest morale. There aren’t more difficult jobs than being on the emergency repair crew for a utility company or being the hammerman in the forge shop, yet the people that hold these jobs take great pride in them. Why? Because the feeling of doing something important makes the work meaningful.

Give your employees an opportunity to be proud of what they do and they will do it better. Show them that even the smallest task that they perform is important. You’ll still hear the talk, “I can’t wait for the day to end” and “I need a vacation”. But remember, when they are on that vacation and somebody asks, “What do you do?”, they will respond with pride that they work for your company! You can’t give another human being a greater gift than pride and self respect in what they do.