Thanksgiving, Black Friday, and Work/Life Balance

Photo of escalators at a mall during the holiday season.

Photo courtesy of FidelerJan at MorgueFile.com

It’s a retail tradition in the U.S. that the holiday shopping season starts the day after Thanksgiving on Black Friday. Retailers slash prices of selected merchandise, sometimes as much as 50 percent or more, to attract buyers and get the jump on Christmas sales. The lower prices are a bonanza for consumers and it shows in the massive number of happy shoppers who park outside retailers like Wal-Mart, Sears, Target and Best Buy many hours in advance of store openings. Those store openings are no longer confined to 5 am. Each successive Black Friday, retailers try to cram in more hours. Many now open at midnight.

Unfortunately, the joy that shoppers experience through buying a $1000 TV for $350 isn’t extended to employees of those stores who are forced to cut their Thanksgiving holiday short and come to work, many times Thanksgiving night.

Some retailers are bucking the trend. REI, the outdoor and camping equipment retailer, shocked the retailing industry by announcing it will be shutting down its stores for Black Friday this year and paying all of its 12,000 employees for the time off. In a letter to REI employees, company CEO Jerry Stritzke wrote:

 On November 27, we’ll be closing all 143 of our stores and paying our employees to head outside. Here’s why we’re doing it:

 

For 76 years, our co-op has been dedicated to one thing and one thing only: a life outdoors. We believe that being outside makes our lives better. And Black Friday is the perfect time to remind ourselves of this essential truth.

 

We’re a different kind of company—and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we’ll be spending our day a little differently. We’re choosing to opt outside, and want you to come with us.

The restaurant Chick-fil-A is a pioneer in work-life balance. Its founder Truett Cathy recognized the importance of rest for his employees when he first shut down on Sunday, a practice the restaurant has maintained since 1946. But Chick-fil-A has been the rare exception.

Until this year. Many retailers such as Costco, T.J. Maxx, Marshalls, Pier One Imports, and a host of others, now plan to at least shut down all day Thanksgiving, while remaining open for Black Friday. Lately Thanksgiving has been seen as one of the most important shopping days of the year, so this trend can be viewed as a welcome one for employees at these stores.

Asking That Important Question

I believe this change stems in part from leaders who are increasingly concerned that employees who work excessively long hours, especially around the holidays, are not as engaged nor as motivated as those employees who are provided the opportunity to balance work-life issues.

Leaders are beginning to recognize the need of employees (and the leaders themselves) to slow down, enjoy life, and replenish their energy supply daily. Having a balanced life takes into account all of their needs, including family, friends, work, play, private time, exercise, and spiritual time. It’s a matter of getting priorities straight.

They’re asking theses important questions: What’s essential for our employees? Do they live to work or work to live? These are simple, yet critical, questions. Working to live should pay the bills while bringing them satisfaction. Living to work, however, means they are likely making sacrifices in other areas of their lives: marriage, family time, going out with friends, hobbies, recreation, exercise, and other aspects of healthful living.

Anna Quindlen, the Pulitzer-Prize winning columnist, put it best. In a graduation speech at Villanova University, she advised students and graduates to “get a life.” Quindlen, who at 19 lost her mother to breast cancer, meant a real life, “not a manic pursuit of the next promotion, bigger paycheck, or larger house. Do you think you’d care so much about those things if you blew an aneurysm one afternoon, or found a lump in your breast? Get a life in which you notice the smell of saltwater pushing itself on a breeze over Seaside Heights, a life in which you stop and watch how a red-tailed hawk circles over the Delaware Water Gap, or the way a baby scowls with concentration when she tries to pick up a Cheerio with her thumb and first finger.”

It wouldn’t surprise me to see this trend continue. Partly because in recent years the start of the holiday shopping season has been shifted all the way back to Halloween, which extends the holiday shopping period for retailers that need to demonstrate annual sales gains. And also partly because leaders are recognizing that paying attention to the well-being of employees translates to employee motivation and retention.

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