A Day Off on Thanksgiving: Good for Employees, Good for Marketing

Hal Conick, Marketing News

Oct. 26, 2016

Giving employees Thanksgiving Day off may mean more than just a morale boost; it could engender good feelings about a brand.

As families gather together and stuff their faces with food on Thanksgiving, many people work the day away at retailers to prepare for holiday shoppers. One long-time marketer says this could be a detriment to the company’s brand, not to mention a death knell for employee morale.

“A lot of extra work and time has gone in before then,” Ramon Avila, the George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of marketing at Ball State University, says of Thanksgiving Day. “A ton of extra work that has worn your workforce out. Now you’re going to put them into the most pressure-packed days. What better way to celebrate than to give them a day off to be with their family and help build morale a bit?”

The National Retail Federation is predicting a sales increase of 3.6% for 2016 in November and December, meaning retail sales are in a good place. Giving employees a day off could “put a little wind back in your sail,” for the shopping season, Avila says.

“I also think there are some image issues here as people look from the outside at retailers staying open and say, ‘You’re greedy, you’re making your employees work, and they should be home with their families,’” says Avila, who has taught at Ball State for 35 years, worked in customer service and consulted at retail companies.

“Retail is tough, especially during the holidays,” he says. “You watch it on TV, Facebook or YouTube and people are charging the doors when the stores open. … You see people sprinting and knocking each other over. Holy cow.”

The Future of Holiday Closure

Will more companies decide to give employees holidays off? Avila believes more retailers will close on Thanksgiving and Christmas in the next five years, pointing to the large list of shops—including Home Depot, Game Stop and REI—that plan to close this year. Even the Mall of America, the biggest mall in the U.S., is slated to close on Thanksgiving Day.

“In the near future it will continue this way,” Avila says. “I think one of the reasons you’re seeing this is because there has been some backlash and stories out there. ‘Bah humbug, why are you making your employees work on a very special day when families are together?’” is a sentiment many customers now have.

A day off on Thanksgiving could also be used as a tool for small businesses to compete against large companies and chain retailers. Avila says small businesses must outfox big companies any way they can, whether that means remembering a customer’s name, remembering their order or showing that they care about employees by giving them a day off.

A Branding, Hiring Advantage to Holidays Off?

Brands create goodwill among employees and consumers by staying closed on Thanksgiving Day, Avila says. Just as people perceive staying open on a holiday as heartless, giving a day off will make employees happier to work and perhaps customers motivated to shop. Additionally, giving employees a day off could bring in better workers in the future.
There is a caveat, Avila says: If Thanksgiving falls on the fourth week of November instead of the third, brands likely feel pressure to stay open. From Black Friday until Christmas, retailers make up to 50% of sales for the year, he says, and those that underperform may be closed in January.
“When you have more days, I don’t think being open on Thursday is important,” he says. “When that shortens up to 25 days of December and two more days in November, now there’s a lot of pressure.”
However, business executives must weigh the prospect of that year’s sales with the morale of their team. Will a bummed-out, post-holiday employee base be any better for sales?
“There are people out there. You’re going to find a skeleton crew at time-and-a-half,” he says. “You’ll get enough people to come in and work, but are they happy about it? … I’d argue most will not be happy about it.”
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