Wednesday, November 16, 2011

If workers don't like working Black Friday hours, they have the freedom to quit

There's clearly a demand for big price cuts at crazy hours just hours after Thanksgiving dinner, and stores need workers to fill that demand. There's no complaining: you do what the job asks, or you quit and work somewhere else. Let's be plain: these "petitioners" claim that Black Friday "encroaches" on the holiday, but in fact they're looking for laws that encroach on people's freedom -- the freedom to have a business that provides goods and services when people want, with employees who are willing to work as needed. These "laws" benefit workers who want employment on their own terms (violating the companies' property rights), while hurting other workers who are willing to work the crazy hours.

When I was young and still living at home, I quit a job that initially said nothing about weekends. When Memorial Day weekend's Saturday and Sunday were sprung on us with two days' notice, my supervisor reminded me about a previous weekend where I refused to show up (also sprung on us at the last minute). He didn't write me up, but this time, he said, "There will be repercussions." It's a poor leader who employs threats rather than inspiration. So I thought about it -- thought about the bait-and-switch that we first hires would quickly be promoted to supervisors, thought about another supervisor stealing my HTML work and claiming it as his own. The pay just wasn't worth it, so I handed over my badge, told him they're asking too much, and walked out the front door. My ultimate satisfaction was that they lost the outsourcing account not long afterward. Most staff were dysfunctional, back-stabbing and incompetent, and management wasn't interested in creating discipline.

But that was a confluence of many bad circumstances. If the pay and job are worth it to the worker, a good one will do what's needed. This is also an employer's market, and good jobs are not easy to come by. My employer's annual reporting requirements mean a lot of January days where I work a full day, come home to work 3 or 4 more hours, then get up at a quarter to 6 the next morning to repeat the process. Last winter, being snowed in one day allowed me to work from 6:30 to 11. It goes with the territory. Last month, we rolled out a new database, the product a year's labor of love and hate. There were times even at the beginning where I'd come home, have dinner quickly with my wife, then set to work for the rest of the night. The final 10 days meant a week of working past 10 every night, all throughout that weekend, and talking with our Hong Kong colleagues until midnight Sunday to see their initial reaction. I was perfectly free to give notice anytime I wanted to quit.

There's a point where you're no longer a kid and need the job more than quitting. (There's no "realization" because you already know it so well that you don't need any epiphany.) You might wonder about year-end bonuses, but you work anyway instead of whining about being away from your family. One of my friends works amazingly long hours and responds on his BlackBerry from 5 to 11. That's part of being a corporate lawyer. He once told me that his youngest daughter asked why he doesn't come home sooner, and he explained that it's so they can have their house and visit places on vacation.

Retail workers should similarly have certain expectations about what's required, based on their job functions and seniority. If you're low on the totem pole, expect to be required to work. When starting out as a computer phone jockey, I worked my share of holidays: Thanksgiving swing shift when I wasn't home at all for dinner, Christmas morning starting at 8, and one time on New Year's Eve (a customer on the phone reminded me when it passed midnight). It was part of the job.

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