Management Lessons Learned from Black Friday

Posted on November 25, 2015.

Thanksgiving is about gratitude, and, no matter your belief system or country of origin, that concept is one that resonates. Also, there’s nothing like gathering around a table with friends and loved ones to do some serious eating. And, let’s be honest, drinking. And then eating again.

At least that was until Black Friday came and changed the narrative from friends, family and tryptophan to “doorbusters” and outrageous deals on flat screen TVs. People got totally caught up in the idea of huge discounts, and companies, intent on making as much money as possible, kept upping the ante. Seemingly overnight, the whole thing turned into a lemming-like rush for deeply discounted technology products and cashmere sweaters.

This focus on money and consumption is one that isn’t just prevalent in the retail sector – it’s a part of corporate life, too. Working late, on weekends and on holidays has become not only the norm but expectedWe’ve lost touch with what’s truly important, something that is easy to somberly say (or write) but do very little about other than some handwringing.

Then, this year, outdoor retailer REI stepped up and announced they were not going to be open on Black Friday or Thanksgiving to give its employees time off to enjoy the holiday and do something they love – be outside.  Thankfully, REI was not alone  - many other companies have since declared they’ll be closed Thanksgiving Day, and some of them are even rolling back the craziness of their Black Friday sales.

By opting out, those businesses are making a statement about the value they place on employees and, ultimately, their quality of life.  This shift is one many businesses and managers can and should emulate.

Employees that feel valued and have a life outside of work are happy and stick around. They work harder and are more likely to put more effort into achieving goals. Another advantage to promoting a happy, balanced workplace is that employees are less likely to instigate an exposé about negative work environments in The New York Times.  So, while it may seem like a good idea to grind on your team or motivate them through a Hunger Games-style competition, nine times out of ten, short terms gains are negated by long term losses.

Retailers have learned this firsthand.  Many consumers are not thrilled about Black Friday creeping into the Thanksgiving holiday, and everyone is sick of hearing about tragedies taking place over 3:00am stampedes for discounted handheld devices. Consumers have been voting with their dollars, and it’s affected the bottom line.  According to Fortune Magazine, the National Retail Federation estimated that sales over the extended Black Friday weekend last year declined by 11% over the prior year.

This Thanksgiving, as you relax, eat and enjoy the company of family and friends, be grateful for your team and reflect on what you can do to promote a balanced work environment.  Keep in mind you don’t have to make sweeping changes. Start with the little things, such as being cognizant of team member’s hours spent at the office.  When folks work late several days in a row, encourage (or insist) that they go home on time or even early when deadlines allow.  Grander gestures like REI’s do take time to conceive, research and implement, but if you see an area where as a manager you can ignite positive change, act! Your team, company and career will thank you.