Black Friday sales must not come at a price to employees

Black Friday represents one of the most hotly anticipated shopping opportunities of the year, for both retailers looking to boost sales and for consumers ready to bag a bargain. But this comes at a price to those employees working in retail and e-commerce. They are expected to work longer hours – some a whopping 60 hours a week – and often take shorter, timed breaks.

It’s also common practice for workers to be forbidden from taking holiday during the busy period, demonstrating that an employer’s profit margin is ranked more highly than an employee’s wellbeing. This is, quite frankly, unfair.

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Throw remote working into the mix and employees, particularly those in e-commerce, are unable to switch off from the stresses that come with the job.

Their bosses expect them to check emails and respond to calls around the clock and within a certain timescale, as well as be ready to jump onto time-sensitive tasks like dealing with order backlogs and resolving technical issues that come with an influx in online visitors. It’s yet another blow to these overstretched workers.

There are of course exceptions depending on which country the employee works from. If they live in France, for example, they legally have the ‘right to disconnect’ outside of contracted hours. Similarly, in Portugal, it is now illegal for employers to call or text employees after work.

In the UK and rest of Europe, similar laws do exist but the mechanism for pursuing employers who break these rights aren’t in place which means employers will probably continue to get away with making unreasonable demands.

To make matters worse, there is no reliable mechanism for employees to time-track or compensate for overtime when working from home. How can staff, for example, accurately include the time they spend away from their desk, responding emails and answering calls on the go? This all adds up.

The rewards for employees can be bleak too, with many rarely facing offers of extra compensation like paid overtime or holiday pay.

With burnout rife in this industry, it’s time that employers put their staff ahead of profit, by rewarding them – at a minimum – with better pay and benefits such as paying for any overtime and giving an extra day off after Black Friday.

Paying employees a one-off bonus is another option, as Amazon did last year – albeit only for frontline staff and potentially to counteract the threat of strikes over virus safety concerns.

Crucially, employers also need to respect their employees’ rest times.

Now is a better time than any for employers to see disconnect laws as a catalyst for reviewing their existing policies and encouraging fairer flexible working practices in which employees can choose their own schedules.

They shouldn’t wait for laws to be mandated by the government, but instead take things into their own hands by putting their employees front of mind in everything they do. This will not only make workers feel more valued, but happier and more likely to stay in the job long-term. From my perspective, this can only be a win-win situation.


Dee Coakley is CEO of remote employment platform Boundless