Month: November 2013

Black Friday Falls One Day Too Soon

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Try this: Go onto a busy sidewalk and stare straight up. As people walk by, note how many look up as well. Some will just take a cursory glance, others will look as long as you do, some, not willing to admit that they have no idea of why they are looking up, will pretend to see something.

Few will ask you what you are looking at. Almost no one will fail to look up at all.

The Friday after Thanksgiving has been the traditional start of the shopping season in the U.S since the 19th Century. Friends and families made a tradition of going out in the morning and staying out all day, returning in the evening with shopping bags filled with gifts. Retailers would have parades and other special events tied to the day. Shop windows would be decorated with flying reindeer, Santa’s elves and nutcrackers. Christmas trees would dominate department store lobbies. Early on, it was not a day for special sales. Sales are designed to bring shoppers into the store. Why have a sale if they are going to come anyway?

But over the years, this changed as competition grew. Retailers started offering bigger and better deals to entice shoppers into their store instead of their competitor. Then, to encourage them even further, they started opening their doors earlier and earlier – 7 am, 5 am, then midnight. People lined up for blocks to get a scanner or a wide screen TV at rock bottom prices.

Now, retailers are opening on that most sacred of secular holidays, Thanksgiving. This started out with just one or two retailers. Now, most big box stores are opening as early as six pm, and offering “Door Buster” deals to entice shoppers. Turn on the TV this time of year, and you’ll see commercial after commercial from these retailers, all advertising early hours.

The idea of making retail employees come in to work on Thanksgiving has created a backlash. People are urging others not to shop at those stores, employees are refusing to work, protests have been organized. Meanwhile, some argue that retailers have a right to be open when they want. And there certainly some workers who don’t mind, or even welcome, going into work. They may receive a pay differential for the holiday, and can use the extra cash. Or they may just hate being with their families.

Of course, overdoing it on wine at dinner will be out if you have to spend the next eight hours working a cash register.

I cannot find any information on whether or not opening on Thanksgiving increases retailers’ bottom lines. Sure, they may increase their sales, but many of the sales are on discounted items. The profit margins are narrow, and after paying the cost of staff and utilities, how much money is leftover?

The fact that there doesn’t appear to be any information on the profitability tells us something. If retailers were increasing net income, they’re PR departments would be working overtime to make sure everyone (or at least, all their shareholders) to knew it.

It also needs to be remembered that Black Friday (and its backwards extension into Thanksgiving) is not the biggest sales day of the year. It is the busiest, with lots of foot traffic, but this foot traffic does not necessarily translate into sales. Normally, the Saturday before Christmas is the biggest sales day. This makes sense, since the procrastinators have to get something for everyone one their list, and get it fast. They don’t have the luxury of time.

So why have retailers started opening early, forcing their employees to come in to work on a day that has been reserved for overeating ever since Abraham Lincoln declared it a National Holiday in 1863? They say it is to be able to keep up with the competition. In other words, everyone else is doing it and we don’t want to be left behind. They are no different than those people looking up in the sky just because you do.

When I’m at a meeting discussing an issue that needs to be solved, one phrase that makes me cringe is, “What are our competitors doing?” My response, “Who cares?” This question assumes that our competitors are doing the right thing, that they are successful. While we might learn something from others, if we want to be leaders we can’t always follow someone else.
Some of these retailers will also say that opening Thanksgiving helps build excitement and set the tone for the all-important holiday shopping season. Perhaps, but it can also lead to ill will. As mentioned, there has been a backlash. Poll after polls shows that a majority of Americans feel that retailers should be closed on Thanksgiving so that employees can spend time with their families. They make Ebenezer Scrooge (in his pre-ghost days) appear downright saintly.

As for me, you won’t see me set foot in a store on Thanksgiving. After a full meal, apple pie for dessert (I don’t like pumpkin – a sacrilege, I know), I’ll curl up on the sofa with my daughters and kick off the season with a holiday movie, maybe Elf or White Christmas or It’s a Wonderful Life.

And that is a better deal than any retailer could offer.

This is the Enda

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The U.S. Senate recently passed the Employee Non-Discrimination Act with 64 votes, including 10 Republicans. The Act would prohibit workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The fight now goes to the Republican controlled House of Representatives, where it faces an uphill battle.

With or without this Act, why anyone would want to discriminate against the LGBT community is beyond me. As I’ve said before on this site, it’s hard enough to find good, dependable employees. Firing or not hiring someone based on factors that have no effect on work performance is just plain bad business.

But I’m not naïve. I know that LGBT discrimination exists, and is pervasive in some industries. If they are to get an equal opportunity to succeed in the workplace, they need the same protections afforded to women, minorities and the disabled. ENDA is a good idea which will have a limited impact on employers who already have fair employment practices and use solid business judgment when making employment decisions.

It’s no surprise that conservative groups like the Heritage Institute object to the Act. What is surprising is that I’ve read arguments against the Act by otherwise reasonable HR people.

The arguments are generally two-fold. The first is that ENDA denies employers with religious objections to homosexuality the right to hire based on those religious beliefs, and in doing so denies them the right to religious expression. The law does have an exemption for religious institutions, but that does not apply to private, for-profit businesses.

Expression of religion does not include beliefs that limit the freedom of others. What if I said that my religious beliefs include one that says women belong at home? Could I then discriminate because of gender? Or what if my religion believed that the earth was given to us by God for our use, and He will always protect it, regardless of our actions? Could I then dump toxins into rivers that supply our drinking water?

One role of government is to protect its citizens from businesses through regulation. Pure libertarians argue that this is not their role, and that the free market will take care of these issues, but history has shown that this is not the case. Government regulations ensure that our air is safe to breath, our food is safe to eat. It makes sure that employers cannot withhold employee wages and need to have a safe work environment. To argue that government cannot infringe on an employer’s right to do whatever the employer wants would set us back 100 years.

There is another, more reasonable argument against ENDA, but one that still doesn’t hold up. This argument states that ENDA would actually hurt LGBTs in the workplace. Employers would not hire LGBT workers because they would be afraid that if they had to fire or discipline the worker, the worker could sue them.

The first problem with this should be obvious – How does an employer know that a job candidate is LGBT? Just because a man’s mannerisms are somewhat effeminate doesn’t mean he’s gay. Just because a woman keeps her hair short and doesn’t wear make-up doesn’t make her a lesbian. I’ve known gay men who like football and drink beer. I’ve known lesbians who wear short skirts and heels. The only way of knowing is if they tell you or you ask them – and even then, the person could lie.

The second problem with this argument is the fallacy is that putting a group of people into a “protected class” means they are protected from being fired, and that firing them will get you sued. Some people think that being protected by the law means getting special treatment. It does not. It means receiving equal treatment.

I’ve had to fire hundreds of people during my career – whites, minorities, men, women, gays – you name it. All these decisions had one factor in common – they were all made for sound business reasons and not because of discrimination. Of all these terminations, there were only two occasions in which someone sued for discrimination (the cases were thrown out for having no merit).

Unless you are a healthy, young white man, you probably fall into one protected class or another. As an employer, one risk you take in letting someone go is that the person could find a reason to file a law suit and a lawyer to take the case. Certainly, the risk of a law suit is a factor when making the decision to terminate. Even unfounded law suits cost time and money, but I have found they are worth it to get rid of an underperforming employee, regardless of protected class. Employers who do not hire or fire someone because of the fear of a lawsuit don’t have the stomach to be in business, anyway.

History proves that there is no evidence that employers wouldn’t hire LGBT because of the fear of lawsuits, or that there would suddenly be a rash of lawsuits. If that were the case, we would have seen this happening in states that already have laws preventing discrimination based on sexual orientation. But according to, there has been no increase in lawsuits in these states.

It should be noted that most businesses have no problem with ENDA or other laws that prevent discrimination. The same article points to surveys that show that 7 in 10 businesses are in favor of it. As Tim Cook said in the Wall Street Journal, having a workplace free of discrimination means having a workplace where employees feel accepted and are positive towards their employers.

And that can only be good for business.