On past Thanksgivings we’ve praised businesses that close their doors to let employees spend the holiday with their families. Each year the list grows longer as organizations continue to exploit the engagement benefits of having a breather before the busy season and providing more work-life balance. 2016 is no exception, with 40 major retailers opting to stay closed; however, the biggest shocker of the season might be Mall of America, that 4.2 million-square-foot bastion of consumerism, which announced this year it would join the resistance and close for Thanksgiving.
No Turkey Business
This is extra-significant because in the past the Mall of America was one of those places opening their doors earlier and earlier on Thanksgiving night to extend the Black Friday madness. Now, in a somewhat dramatic turn, it is taking a firm stand against that, citing their excitement to “give the day back to employees.” Granted, the decision was made by mall management and individual retailers aren’t necessarily required to follow, but they’ve clearly drawn a line.
What brought on the change of heart? Mall of America looked at the numbers and realized that Black Friday “creep” — or the phenomenon of subtly extending Black Friday hours into other days — wasn’t giving them any clear benefit. Mall officials such as marketing and business development senior VP Jill Renslow saw that the mall receives around the same number of visitors on Thanksgiving weekend regardless of whether it’s three or four days long. She recently told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune that the mall is “confident we’ll still get those strong numbers throughout the Black Friday weekend.”
Mall of America’s pivot should show us how real the market pressure is to take a stand on work-life issues in today’s business world. In an age where customers (and employees!) judge organizations just as much by their propensity for goodwill as they do by the quality of their deals, pulling sales stunts at a time when people traditionally come together in the home is becoming something of a liability.
The bittersweet lining to all this is the mall still plans to open at 5:00 a.m. the next morning for Black Friday festivities, meaning a short-lived reprieve for its 15,000 employees. But, hey, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Maybe one day Americans will figure out how to manage Thanksgiving and holiday shopping simultaneously without such high human capital costs. In the meantime, Mall of America deserves credit for at least taking a stand and raising awareness.
Cord Himelstein is marketing and communications VP at Michael C. Fina Recognition, a company that specializes in employee recognition.