We recently watched a conversation on social media on the subject of retailers choosing to open on holidays--in this case, the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday here in the U.S. It's quite the heated topic: it has spawned a Facebook page urging consumers to boycott stores open on Thanksgiving, and there are any number of memes floating around listing the retailers who are choosing to open. And unfortunately, many of those retailers are the biggest ones here in the States.
One would think there's little controversy in urging businesses to let their employees have a day off of work to spend at home celebrating the holiday. But the "other side" can point to the fact that we have a free market society, and businesses can choose to operate (for the most part) however they want. The dark--and somewhat unspoken--side of that argument ignores the fact that many of these businesses are retailers and many retail workers are not given a choice in the matter. A common comment, of which we've seen a few variations, is that if people don't like working on Thanksgiving, they can just go get another job.
Opinions like these reveal some biases people have against retail jobs, display a lack of understanding of the retail market, and fly in the face of some hard facts. One might think of retail jobs as the domain of teenagers and retirees who simply need some "extra cash." That idea is simply not true. As MIT Sloan School of Management Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton pointed out in the webinar, "The Good Jobs Strategy: Why Good Jobs are Good for Business," there are 4.3 million salespeople in the U.S., the average sales associate is female and 38 years old, and many of them are supporting families. These retail jobs are considered "bad jobs," due to their low wages, erratic schedules, and lack of opportunities for advancement. But while it may appear one retail job is just like the next, few people, regardless of income level or other demographic information, can just "decide to go get another job." Employees need to factor in seniority, benefits, transportation, and numerous other variables that impact their ability to change jobs.