Black Friday and Employee Burnout

by Jennifer Miller on November 26, 2010

in Business Management, Leadership, Workplace Issues

Early in my career I was a Human Resources Generalist for Marshall Field’s department stores. Autumn was a busy time for the HR department as we ramped up the hiring and training for the seasonal staff. Black Friday was the official start to our industry’s busiest time of year—a fiscal “make it or break it” time that was very hectic. To our customers, it was a time of bargains and holiday spirit. To those of us on the front lines, it meant customer service headaches, extra-long work hours and little time for our own Christmas cheer. 

Watching all the Black Friday T.V. ads yesterday brought me back to those busy days on the retail floor. Employee burnout was a shadowy monster, looming on the fringes of our daily work lives. Burnout affected not only our associates on the floor, but those of us in management too. I was fortunate in that my immediate supervisor, the Human Resources Manager, was a highly organized woman who had all of her seasonal hiring done by October 31 so that I could do the New Employee Training in plenty of time to staff up the floor.  We also had an excellent Store Manager who understood the need to take a break.  We didn’t work seven days a week, as many of our counterparts in the mall did.

Many industries have a specific time of year that is particularly hectic. It’s their version of “Black Friday”: Tax Season for accounting, Hurricane Season for the property casualty insurance industry, Summer Season in a travel resort area and so on.

Employee burnout has very real consequences for a business.  In addition to the toll on work relationships and morale, stressed employees experience more health challenges too. Workers who report that they are stressed incur health care costs that are 46 percent higher, or an average of $600 more per person, than other employees.1

Regardless of when your company’s “busy season” is, please take a moment to consider how you will help your employees navigate an uptick in workload.  What can you do to help ease a heavy burden?  You might not be able to slow the onslaught of increased sales, service requisitions, or customer complaints, but you can pay attention to when nerves are frayed. Be sure to acknowledge the extra effort people are putting in. It will pay dividends in the long run.

What are some specific tactics you have used to encourage a group whose energy is flagging?

1 Steven L. Sauter, chief of the Organizational Science and Human Factors Branch of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Georgia Feiste November 26, 2010 at 9:22 pm

Great article, Jennifer. I remember well the fall promotion at Allstate where people were working 18 hour days just to keep up with the production from the field. This was an annual event to push the producers into higher producing slots, yielding better commissions and bonuses. Unfortunately, the home office staff was pushing just as hard, often with little reward. One of the funniest stories throughout all of that – there were two female employees that deliberately got pregnant two years in a row so they would be out of the office during that last two months of the year, just so they could miss it!

Jennifer V. Miller December 2, 2010 at 8:24 am


That’s quite a story. However, I’m not sure if two children that are 12 months apart in age is any easier than working 18 hour days! (LOL.)

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