Should retail employees be forced to work on holidays?

When I think of the holiday season, I picture two contrasting images. The first image I envision is a wholesome scene: family gathered around a dinner table, enjoying each other’s company. The second image is not so wholesome: a mob of impatient shoppers awake at some ungodly hour, trampling each other to buy products for ridiculous prices. In my mind, it’s ironic that right after we thank God for what we are blessed to have on Thanksgiving, we embrace our materialistic selves and raid stores to buy the things we don’t have.

As Christmas approaches, oftentimes, we will do anything to get the best deals. In the heat of my shopping, sometimes I forget the other side of retail: the workers. Too often, I will take the smiling greeters and the hard-working cashiers for granted. On holidays and the eves of holidays, these employees sacrifice family time and relaxation time to come to work and ensure the success of their retail stores during the most profitable time of year.

In a perfect world, no one would have to work during holidays. But the reality is, retail chains are too reliant on their revenue on the night of Thanksgiving, Black Friday, Christmas Eve and Christmas day to allow all their workers to take the day off. Should employees have the choice whether or not they should work during holidays? Most definitely, yes. But the tricky part is, if retail stores give their workers the choice whether or not to work on these days, some of them will undoubtedly say no. In some cases, the number of employees who opted to work during holidays won’t be enough. What happens then? Retail managers have to force certain employees to work or else face an understaffed store and unsatisfied, angry customers.

As I see it, the major issue here isn’t whether or not retail employees should have to work on holidays. The deeper problem we need to address as a society is the unfortunate collision of corporate greed and holiday spirit.

If employees say “yes” to working on holidays, they most likely badly need the money to make ends meet. These workers are in a quandary: they have to choose between spending time with family or making money to provide for the family. They have to decide which they value more: cherishing the holiday with loved ones or earning the additional $50-150 to buy gifts and food to celebrate later.

But the employees aren’t the only one in a tough spot. After a rough economic recession, retail chains are desperate to cash in profit during the holiday season. As a result, Black Friday starts earlier and earlier every year and more stores seem to be open on Christmas day. If these retailers don’t meet their profit outlook, they pay their employees less, hire less and fire more. However, these companies can’t receive enough profit without workers on hand during holidays. Even when there are enough workers, many stores cannot afford to pay them much more than their normal wages.

This problem can’t be blamed on the retailers; after all, businesses exist to make profit and deliver value to their clients, and that’s exactly what retailers are doing.

To be honest, I don’t really have a solution to this problem. But I do have a takeaway. When you’re enjoying your Christmas dinner, when you’re opening the gifts under that sparkling Christmas tree, and when you’re listening to Michael Buble’s latest Christmas album while playing board games with family, think about those working 12-hour-shifts in the midst of retail frenzy. Hopefully, you will further appreciate the luxury and comfort of your own family and home, and express that appreciation the next time you walk into a store during the holiday shopping craze. Happy Holidays!