In this post, it’s a two-for-one deal. Two Families and Work Institute staffers go head-to-head and offer up different viewpoints on a topic that recently made headlines. Macy’s will be opening most of their stores on Thanksgiving Day for the first time, among other retailers. The move has prompted outrage among many, including this Facebook group:
But is it or is it not a work-life issue? Read our staffers’ take on what this trend is really a sign of, and then let us know where you come down on the issue in the comments.
Fowl-ing Up Work Life
By Eve Tahmincioglu
As Macy’s states on its website:
Well, this year Macy’s business decision will mean some of those children and families will have to be apart on “this most cherished national holiday.”
The workers outside and inside of Macy’s will be punching a clock on the turkey holiday, and I don’t care how you slice this turkey, it’s not good news when it comes to the elusive work-life fit.
Macy’s announced last month that for the first time, most of its stores will be opening at 8 p.m., the day before Black Friday.
Clearly, Macy’s is not alone. And the retailer — known for being Thanksgiving friendly — is actually late to the early bird opening party.
The last two years have ushered in a whole new world thanks to retailers who felt you all wanted to shop before you even digested your turkey. And one merchant that just threw out all the rules was Kmart/Sears, which decided to open its doors at 6 a.m. on Thanksgiving.
Employees have been crying fowl for some time. One employee at Target, which announced it would be open on Thanksgiving in 2011, tried to fight this by posting a web petition to stop the injustice of working on such an important day. Anthony Hardwick got lots of attention for his efforts but didn’t get very far in convincing Target to roll back its decision to open late on Thanksgiving.
In his petition he wrote:
Hardwick’s petition called for 300,000 signatures, but he ended up shy of his goal with 200,000. Maybe not all of us care if people are forced to work on holidays.
Target, Macy’s, and the rest of the early bird retailers, decided to open earlier but only earlier by a few hours. Typically, retailers had opened around 5 a.m. on Black Friday, which always made me feel bad for those workers who probably had to be there by 3 a.m. to prepare for the crazy shopping day.
Everyone seemed OK with having people work during the wee hours after the big day of thanks, and clearly shoppers with days off had no problem with heading to stores despite probably having family still at home.
But working on Thanksgiving? Hardwick’s petition was one of the first real pushbacks on the retail shift, a shift of a work clock that’s been creeping into employees’ personal time for some time now.
Indeed, this work-life story is bigger than just working on Thanksgiving. Our always-on mentality today has contributed to a blurring of the lines between work and personal time, and instead of working less, as some predicted we’d be doing decades ago, we’re actually working more.
Taking time off for holidays, and the whole five-day, 40-hour week, wasn’t always the norm. But society realized working all the time wasn’t sustainable, so hours were slowly scaled back. Seems we’re going in the opposite direction now.
Can you image, 15 hours! We’d be able to fit a whole lot of life into that work-life fit equation.
We seem to be working more today…on holidays, nights, weekends. And at the same time we’re not shirking our responsibilities at home.
According to the most recent data from Families and Work Institute:
There’s another petition, similar to Hardwick’s that was posted just last week, calling for one of the biggest shopping mall operators to turn back its decision to open on Thanksgiving.
I contacted Simon Malls and the public relations department confirmed that for the first time some of the company’s properties will be opening on Thanksgiving, stating: “About 75% of our regional malls will open at 8:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving night in response to customer demand.”
There was no mention of employee demand. But they do have some. The STOP-Simon-Malls-From-Opening-Thanksgiving-Day petitioner Nancy Aranda Martinez writes: “This is really unfair for all of us who have family members and we all want a holiday off to spend dinner with our loved ones.”
As of this week, there were only about 53 signatures on her petition. But hey, maybe most of the folks who would care are just too busy working to sign a petition.
It’s About Culture, Not Work Life
By Ken Matos
To be a work-life issue, time off on Thanksgiving would have to be universal and we would have to adapt our society to make sure as few people work as possible. Yet, many people do work on Thanksgiving, from essential emergency personnel (police officers, fire fighters, doctors), to the people keeping grocery stores and gas stations open for a last minute ingredient/fuel run, to the people who support NFL fans at stadiums and who broadcast the games.
We as a society have always felt that some people should work on Thanksgiving, and not just around keeping the lights on or handling car accidents. Unless one argues that we have violated all those peoples’ work-life fit we can’t suggest that being on duty on Thanksgiving is inherently a work-life crime. (For another take on this issue, check out this article on Time.com)
Clearly the decision has work-life implications even if it is not specifically a work-life issue. Companies changing their hours around holidays need to announce those decisions early so employees have time to negotiate shifts and vacations with one another and their employer.
For example, for some employees Thanksgiving is a full day affair (e.g., the chefs) and for others it’s just a football game and deliciously fattening meal. Non-chefs may find it easy to work around the few hours that they are really celebrating (the length of the dinner) while chefs may be the keystone on which the family’s holiday is built. Chefs’ may need to have the entire day to cook, serve, and finally relax.
The best work-life strategy around holiday schedules (when an organization decides it needs to stay open) is to work as a team and trade off holidays and other leave opportunities to give everyone meaningful days throughout the year, even if they don’t all get the same days.
Stores also need to be responsible about how their incentives are related to dangerous behaviors like stampedes and safety for workers and customers alike. Perhaps spacing out the super deals throughout the night and phasing in stock would remove the incentive to elbow a fellow consumer in the face to beat them to the newest constructor set. There also need to be considerations of how the change affects issues of pay, seniority, union contracts and a host of other aspects of how our work and lives fit together.
However, the decision to have stores opens on Thanksgiving night is ultimately a cultural issue. As I said in a post on this subject last year,
Providing incentives for people to leave their Thanksgiving tables to do battle for one of the few 75% off Jumbo-Tron 9000s at the local X-mart seems to be a violation of that spirit.
Yet, a lot of people, about 35 million in 2012 according to the National Retail Federation, do go shopping on Black Friday and about 28% hit the stores as soon as they opened at midnight with 79.6% using the deals to stock up on non-gift items.
Clearly there is a huge demand for people to be able to begin shopping that evening, both as part of the impending gift season and for other essentials. Any business looking to make a profit (and which one isn’t?) needs to consider whether its bottom-line is going to be substantially enhanced by participating in this trend.
It may not be in keeping with the traditional spirit of Thanksgiving but setting businesses up as the keepers of our holiday traditions and values is a dangerous proposition because they have inherent conflicts of interest around traditions that don’t include buying their products. I think of it like setting the family dog to guard the Thanksgiving turkey. It’s foolish of the family and cruel to the dog to expect it to act in violation of its nature.
At FWI we always say people should look for the win-win in all situations and setting businesses up to hold the line for cultural traditions that do not serve their interests is simply not a realistic approach for getting a win-win.
If people believe that retail employees should be home on Thanksgiving then the surest way to accomplish that is for them to embrace their responsibility as customers and stay home on Thanksgiving, whatever deal the retailers offer.
If the stores don’t make any profit between 8PM Thursday and 9AM Friday they won’t be open, the deals will move back to Black Friday and their employees can stay home.
If customers continue to flood stores during this time then we may need to accept that the definition of Thanksgiving has changed and own responsibility for that change along with our new, 75% off, Jumbo-Tron 9000.
We would love to hear your take on this topic. Is it a work-life issue or not?
Comment here or join the discussion on our Facebook page.