A Leadership Fail for Black Friday

As I write this, it is four days prior to Black Friday, long considered the kick-off to the start of the retail industry’s crucial holiday shopping season.  Every year, Black Friday starts. Now, Thanksgiving Day is the new Black Friday. Many retail chains have announced plans to open at some point on Thanksgiving Day to capitalize on gaining consumers’ paltry disposable income. The latest workplace issue surrounding this move comes from a Target employee who started a petition called “Save Thanksgiving” when he found out he was scheduled to work from 11 PM Thanksgiving Day until 4 AM Friday morning.

I began my career in retail, so I get it: retail work means long hours at not-so-fun times of the day. As a Human Resources manager, I recall the challenges of the make-or-break period from late November until December 24th. Our entire management staff worked very hard to ensure our team members didn’t experience employee burnout.  Nobody loved the work hours, but it was the way the retail business operated.

Of course, back then we had some slack; employees could still expect to be home on Thanksgiving Day—all of it. We didn’t open at midnight in a desperate attempt to glean a few extra dollars at the expense of our employees’ precious few hours of time off. Now, it appears, even a national holiday is off the table for retail employees.

According to Target’s director of human resources for Northern region stores, “the decision to open at midnight Black Friday was not one we took lightly. As this is the busiest shopping day of the year, it is imperative that we be competitive.”  

So I wonder—just how much will the Target chain really come out ahead with this decision? Will the sales revenues generated offset the costs of operating the store? What about the hidden costs of resentful employees working unfamiliar non-standard shifts?  I think many consumers would be happy to wait a few hours so that employees can spend some time with their families. It may even glean the retail store some good will. And if they can’t (maybe they have to work starting at 3 AM for their retail employer) then they can hop online and shop Target.com.

I see this as a failure of leadership at the head of these large retail corporations. The executives could have taken a stand against Black Thanksgiving. They could have said, “We choose to honor the tradition of the Thanksgiving holiday and provide our employees with time off to enjoy time with their families.”

Instead, they’ve engaged in a game of “me, too” with their competition. It will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

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