Bright lights reflect off sale signs, early morning temperatures chill the air and lines of people form in preparation for the holiday kick-off: Black Friday. While the day is full of excitement and deals, customer service employees are often times overlooked participants on Black Friday.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), six in 10 Americans work in a retail position at some point in their life. In a survey conducted by the NRF, 37% of retail workers said they work part time because of their school schedule. Western students are a percentage of people working part-time jobs as well as spending the holiday season juggling school, work and family. Three Western students and customer service workers share their experience working Black Friday.
“I think it goes without saying that we’re exhausted,” Melanie Bell, Western student and Marshalls employee, said. “The holiday season in general is tiring for people that aren’t going to school, but it’s especially so for students because it starts around the same time that midterms are due and preparations for finals begin.”
Bell has worked at Marshalls for almost three years. It can be challenging to find a balance between work, school and personal time, especially with a full class load, Bell said. With the holiday season approaching, the colder and shorter days cause her heating bills to go up, meaning she has to work more.
“It’s also difficult sometimes to stay cheerful during what people want to be the most wonderful time of the year,” Bell said. “Seasonal depression is a real thing, and for some people, it gets worse if you’re not able to slow down and take time for yourself.”
Courtney Smith is a Western student currently working at Home Depot. Prior to that, she was an employee at JCPenny during the last holiday season. She said she wants customers to understand what it is like to work long and busy shifts during the holidays simply to pay the bills.
“Be patient,” Smith said. “Be kind. I think especially at a store like Home Depot, people expect me to do a lot of things outside of my job description.”
SeCara Seehorn, a student and American Eagle employee, said last year she worked an eight-hour shift on Thanksgiving Day and an eight-hour shift on Black Friday.
“I would definitely appreciate if more people understood that all of us work holidays so that our customers can shop and have fun with their families and our stores wouldn’t be open without our staff,” Seehorn said.
While customers are nice for the most part, the long lines and chaotic hours are not a Black Friday myth, Smith said. The hardest part about working is working a full shift, sleeping for a few hours and then returning to work another full shift.
“When I worked at JCP, I had a shift that started at 10 p.m. Thanksgiving night, so I basically slept through dinner that night,” Smith said.
Another challenge Smith faces when working the holidays is worrying about having enough time to spend with family.
“It’s especially hard now working in Bellingham when my family lives hours away,” Smith said. “If I don’t get that time off, I might not see them at all.”
Seehorn said customers are kind and her co-workers make the experience fun, despite the clutter in the store from the volume of customers.
Customer service employees often start preparing for Black Friday on Thanksgiving Day, meaning students sometimes can’t spend the holidays with their friends and family. However, Bell advised connecting with other employees and to remember co-workers are going through the same thing.
“I know it’s really not the same as spending time with your friends and family, but there are people that are going through the same thing that you are and you’re not alone, even if it feels like it,” Bell said. “Some of my best friends have come from working so much with them, which is definitely what happens during the holidays.”
It can be challenging to not have time to spend with people outside of work for employees who have to work the entire break.
“The hardest thing for me is not being able to go home during the holidays,” Seehorn said. “I am an out-of-state student and for retail jobs especially, the holiday season is an opportunity for me to get a lot of hours, which means I don’t get to go home for the whole break.”
Seehorn said scheduling time for friends and family before or after the holiday is important for workers and students to do.
“You don’t need to celebrate holidays on the actual day they fall on, but it is important to spend time with people you care about and take the time to tell them you appreciate them,” Seehorn said.