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The Ethics of Business on Thanksgiving (and/or Other Holidays You Like)

Ethics of Business on ThanksgivingThe holiday season is upon us!

It’s that happy time of year where people complain about “consumerism” and get their dander up about stores opening too early or too late and, of course, engage in the annual rag-on-Walmart-to-gain-progressive-cred moment.

This week the outcry has been against the horrid store owners that have let Black Friday creep into Brown Thursday — unnecessarily interrupting the making of the gravy.

Me? I just don’t care.

To date, I’ve not seen a sound argument for all this angst. And I’ve tried. So here I will present the best arguments I could gather and my responses to them.

Unless you’re too busy celebrating cyber-Monday, let me know what you think in the comments below. 

Exploiting Employees

When stores open, they are taking their employees away from their families. I personally feel that the stores are putting the dollar ahead of the welfare of their employees.

When stores open, they are taking their employees away from their families no matter what day it is. If this is a problem in itself, any employment outside the home (and sometimes inside) is an ethical issue. And if “taking employees away from their families” is equivalent to “putting the dollar ahead of the welfare of their employees,” then it’s always doing so, whether or not it happens to be the fourth Thursday in November or the Friday after that.

If you know personally people who not working on Thanksgiving will hurt them, get me in touch with them. I will show them how they can make it so it doesn’t hurt them.

There are countless ways to avoid the pain of working on Thanksgiving:

  1. Choose an industry that isn’t typically open on holidays (service, retail, emergency, etc.).
  2. Chose an employer that won’t require holiday work.
  3. Start your own business and close on holidays.
  4. Get a government job — they have more holidays than anyone I know!
  5. Work overtime or take other undesirable shifts instead of the Thanksgiving shift.
  6. Marry the boss’s son or daughter.
  7. Marry the boss.
  8. Sell stuff on eBay in your spare time to make up for lost hours.
  9. Start a home business to make up for days you refuse to work.
  10. Go on welfare because you got fired for refusing to work.
  11. Etc.

People who choose not to work on Thanksgiving will be hurt if they lose their jobs or miss some of the biggest commissions/tips of the year by not going.

For several years my two oldest couldn’t make it to the Family Thanksgiving Dinner because they were at work. This year my daughter-in-law had to leave early to go to work.

Why not celebrate on a day/time they are all available? Or later/earlier?

When I worked at Burger King, we had an open schedule, meaning we stayed until the manager felt the business had dwindled to the point of no return. My family simply planned the meal for late evening and then held it until I got home.

This year, my sister’s family celebrated on Friday, when her family could all get together.

Changing Jobs Is Not an Option

It’s not that simple to “go get a different job” or “quit and find a different one” after the Holiday hiring season and not to mention who wants to be jobless during the Holidays or anytime regardless.

I agree that people aren’t  likely to jump ship the day before Thanksgiving and be gainfully employed by Black Friday (or Cyber Monday, or whenever else you think it’s acceptable for employees to be expected to return to work).

The point being that if you have particular employment demands, you make sure they are met before you accept the job. You don’t accept the job and then gripe about the conditions you accepted. It’s like marrying a professional football player and then grousing because he doesn’t to go church with you on Sunday.

If I were to be a doctor, I’d be a podiatrist or something. Never, ever an OB. I don’t want to be on call 24/7 for anything. But if you want to deliver babies without ever being inconvenienced, then, don’t.

If you don’t have the skills to get another job, then you have until next November to do something about it. Or don’t, and then get on Facebook again next year and complain about how abused you are.

 I know very few people who want to work in retail. For most its a time/resume filler.

People don’t want to work retail. They have to work retail because they don’t have the skills or education to work elsewhere. And yet, they want to dictate to the store owner — the person who has developed the skills to own a business and has taken all the risk to make a business successful enough to employ other people — just how things should be done? Yea, that makes sense.

Since you feel that way, you need to start a business and hire me as an employee, then I get to decide what happens on the job. Because, you know, I don’t really want to work at your stupid company anyway, so I should be in charge.

Here’s the deal. When I was a freshman in college I worked at Burger King. There was no kidnapping or slave labor involved. I worked there 100% because I wanted to work there.

They offered money in exchange for putting on a brown/orange/yellow polyester pantsuit with an elastic waistband and matching cap and serving up burgers, fries, and sodas with a smile. I also took turns clearing tables, mopping floors, and cleaning restrooms. Sometimes I had to work in back doing the cooking. They gave me minimum wage and a schedule that allowed me to continue to go to college.

The deal was the best I could get at the time and I wanted it 100%.

Did I love the job? No. Did I want to work there forever? No. Did I do whatever it took to “move up” in the job sector? Yes. Did I have to work Thanksgiving? Yes.

If working on Thanksgiving is a deal breaker to you, get a different job. If it’s not, then just get on with it and stop griping about it. It’s like moaning and groaning every time a baby needs a diaper change. It’s just part of the deal.

Thanksgiving Is Sacred

We will loose so much more then we gain by no longer recognizing this as a sacred holiday.

While I do like to get behind religious causes, Thanksgiving isn’t a “sacred holiday” today by any reasonable definition.

It’s a manmade holiday — like all other holidays celebrated in the United States. In fact, the only holiday that has any real historical date claim is Independence Day. Christmas, Easter, Halloween, etc., were just Christian takeovers of pagan holidays. The history of Thanksgiving goes something like this (revise to fit your own version):

  1. People have prayed and given thanks to God forEVER on a daily basis, without government dictating the day and time.
  2. English reformation including lots of services of thanks, competing with the Catholic tradition.
  3. Mid-1500s Puritans wanted to remove all mandated holidays and replace them with “Days of Fasting or Days of Thanksgiving.”
  4. 1621 Plymouth feast. You know the deal.
  5. Pilgrims and Puritans mingled traditions.
  6. Various and sundry “Thanksgiving proclamations” by both British and American leaders.
  7. George Washington declares first national Thanksgiving to be celebrated November 26, 1789, “as a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favours of Almighty God,”
  8. 1863 Lincoln declares a day set aside for “thanksgiving and praise.”
  9. More proclamations made annually.
  10. FDR changes the date and causes a “civil war” between state and feds, circa 1939.
  11. 1941 Congress rescues us from this grievous issue by declaring fourth Thursday as official Thanksgiving.
  12. Annual presidential turkey pardoning, followed by president feasting on turkey. Winning most inane use of tax dollars ever.

So Congress decided this is the day we must give thanks to — not God, that would violate separation of church and state — but to some unknown, unnamed higher power. I just don’t pledge allegiance to Congress very often.

Thanksgiving is the only Holiday that we have as a country that values time with family and celebrates values, regardless of which religion you practice.

I don’t see some general values-driven formula going on here. Scads of people post on Facebook all the things they are grateful for. But I see no correlation between those who work and those who don’t. Or even those who share a particular value set and those who don’t.

I feel like we are making a statement as a nation as to what is important to us. Is this really the path we want to go down?

I don’t see this as a meaningful path. Rejecting God’s command to rest on the Sabbath is much more troubling to me than working at an honest job on a federal holiday.

I’m not trying to produce a relative privation fallacy here, I just don’t think it matters much whether or not we celebrate a congressionally declared, supposed day of thanks. Particularly when we can set this time aside anytime we want. And I don’t really think God cares if we “set aside” some day for turkey and football, when we should really be thanking him all the time.

Strength in Numbers

The power of a nation coming together and giving thanks and prayer for all we have is, in my opinion, special and sacred…very sacred.

I agree with this sentiment, but believe it is mostly sentiment. I don’t remotely think this is what Thanksgiving is now or has been, at least in most of my lifetime. Since the 1930s it has been a big football day and the most notable part has been stuffing our faces until we can’t sit up straight.

If we really need and want some kind of massive day of prayer, let’s do it.

And, again, coming together as a nation and doing it– there is POWER in that! Why take that away from are children!?!?

My responses are:

  1. We simply aren’t “coming together as a nation” at some particular time on Thanksgiving day to give thanks to God anyway. (What time is that supposed to be?)
  2. Why does working on Thanksgiving keep us from giving thanks? Can’t we still join the collective power play while, say, selling shoes?
  3. Why can’t we, as a family, choose a day we can all be together to give thanks, depending upon our various schedules?

No Time Off!

Can we really not pause for a few hours from spending as a nation and be grateful for all we have?

Given that almost every activity we engage in requires transfer of resources, I’d say no. Unless the entire country is willing to turn off their utilities, stop posting on the internet, stop using phones and TVs and radios and roads, etc., for the same set of hours and agree to sit quietly in reflection, I’d say no, we can’t.

That’s not the same as saying we can’t be grateful. We can. We should. But why some particular hours on a particular day (what “few hours” are we talking about?) should be demanded, I don’t understand.

Are we really going to justify the fact that we can’t stop spending and working for a few hours?

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t take work/spending breaks. The fact that we don’t all do it at the exact same moment, isn’t of particular consequence to me. Even those I know who work on Thanksgiving don’t work 24 hours of it. All of them had some time they could have a meal, as I did those the years I was “forced” to work on Thanksgiving.

People need down time. 24/7 is not good for health or happiness.

I believe it would be illegal to require someone to work 24 hours with no break. Where did this occur? Did you contact the Department of Workforce services?

It is, in my opinion, a myth that shutting down for a few hours to give thanks will hurt families.

Certainly it depends on the family and the situation. As a business owner (for 26 years and counting), I have determined not to work on Sunday. But that is the only day I don’t work to some extent. I like my work and prefer doing some every day. Even Thanksgiving and, yes, even Christmas. Kind of like I keep being a mom on holidays, too.

That said we have never asked employees to work on Thanksgiving. We have had some remote, waged workers who could, in theory, have chosen to work that day, but we didn’t ask them to and didn’t monitor their calendars.

Bad Business

How on earth does having the sales start earlier help anything!?!

I’m sleeping, so I wouldn’t know, but I expect it’s similar to the way auctions tend to drive up prices. Having something unusual or special tends to create demand.

Smart business owners won’t continue to do things that don’t “help anything.” So if it’s a business bust, it stops happening. In other words, if Thanksgiving openings stop being special, unusual, or profitable, they won’t keep happening in most cases. Why not let the market decide?

Replacing Gratitude with Greed

In a nutshell, I don’t understand the continuously implied mutual exclusivity of these statements.

How many articles and books have been published on how to help avoid our children having a sense of entitlement. Is there a possibility that we are creating it by making buying stuff more important then giving thanks?

This could be said about any buying on any day and any time. If you go grocery shopping on Tuesday afternoon, I could say, “Why are you making grocery shopping more important than feeding the poor???”

Note there are lots of establishments that are open 24 hours. I don’t often shop at 3:00 am, but when I need meds or when I’m coming home from a trip or for some other reason need something in the middle of the night, I’m really glad there is someplace to go. And what would we do without a 2:00 am Denny’s grand slam breakfast run?

Note that all those middle-of-the-night employees are “forced” to work swing. Why are these horrible stores making buying stuff more important than a good night’s sleep? Don’t they care about health?

I think it’s unfortunate to put aside the values of gratitude and togetherness in favor the of the selfishness and commercialism of using that day to shop.

If this were slave labor, I suppose I could understand the contention. But if you don’t want to work on Thanksgiving Day or Black Friday, get a job where it isn’t part of the deal! Or spend your time at work being full of gratitude!

When an importance is placed on giving thanks, you find ways.

Like giving thanks all year long? Or celebrating a special day of thanks when your chosen field/employer doesn’t require work? This is really a straw man. Working on Thanksgiving doesn’t preclude giving thanks. And working on Thanksgiving doesn’t mean you don’t value giving thanks enough.

Businesses who are forcing their employees to work on Thanksgiving it can only be called greed!!

In such statements, “greed” tends to be defined as “the desire to make money.” Sources seem to conveniently forget that if the business owners didn’t have “the desire to make money,” these “poor” employees wouldn’t have a job to complain about.

So it is just the desire to make money on Thanksgiving that is “greedy” or all year long?

Also, I have a long list of people who are ready for you to employ them (at a “living wage,” of course) at your new non-greedy (non-profitable) business. Send me application info!

Greedy people making other people work. I have family members who had to be at work all day today, so that people could shop. No time with loved ones.

See above.

If the owner is greedy, why don’t you find employment from better people? Since the main purpose of retail is “so that people [can] shop,” and you don’t think that is important enough to take family away from home, why don’t you seek employment outside of retail? or from a retail establishment that closes on Thanksgiving? or from a retail establishment that doesn’t…let…people…shop? or start your own retail business with a schedule you like and without…promoting…shopping?

Thanksgivings is a traditional holiday that belongs to the private citizen and their families!!

[OK, seriously, I have no idea what that means, but…] And the stores that employ you are owned by people who make the decisions about their businesses. If you want the business to belong to you, buy it.

If Working on Thanksgiving is a Major Problem for You Don’t Work At or Patronize these Places

  • Theaters
  • Gas stations
  • Restaurants
  • Medical services
  • Emergency services
  • Airports
  • Television stations
  • Hotels and other hospitality
  • Radio stations
  • Phone companies
  • Internet providers
  • Utility providers
  • Security providers
  • Retail companies

Bottom Line

With rare exceptions, I don’t shop on Thanksgiving. In fact, I almost never shop on Black Friday, either. It’s simply a practical issue to me. I don’t care for shopping, I hate crowds, and I’m not going to spend four hours in line to save $15 (or $50 or $100). I do most of my holiday shopping online.

If stores decided to close on Thanksgiving Day, I’d be fine with it. In fact, I’d be happy for the employees. But the outrage and moral claims about opening on the day aren’t logical in my book.

If you don’t want to work on Thanksgiving, take a job (or create one!) that doesn’t require it. If you don’t want to shop on Thanksgiving, stay home. Freedom.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • Ayla December 2, 2013, 8:01 pm

    Every argument you make could be made in favor of people working the Sabbath, so I take it you are fully in support of that as well?

  • Alison Moore Smith December 3, 2013, 1:48 pm

    Ayla, yes, those arguments CAN be made about working on the Sabbath — as long as you don’t believe in God. Since I DO believe in God and DO believe he has sanctioned the Sabbath as a day of rest, that authority rest well with me.

    I don’t put the congressional declaration of a national holiday (which, btw, doesn’t prohibit work) on the same par with commandments from God.
    Alison Moore Smith recently posted…Top 5 Ways to Be Annoying This ChristmasMy Profile

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