Let's celebrate the real heroes of Black Friday– the shift workers

Nov 22, 2015 at 11:29 a.m. ET
Image: :Mark Edward Atkinson/Getty Images

I predict the word "doorbusters" in reference to Black Friday deals will soon be one of those obsolete words like "car antenna" or "penmanship."

Black Friday deals now start the day before, on Thanksgiving, and there is no need to bust down any door or sleep outside waiting for the stores to open to get the best deals; they’re readily available.

Walmart will open at 6 p.m. Thanksgiving eve, as will Kmart, Sears, Target, Macy’s and Best Buy. Not only are restaurants like Carl's Jr. and TGI Fridays open early on Black Friday, but they are offering specials to make sure you choose them.

Even though, according to Fortune, Black Friday 2014 sales were down a whopping 11 percent, stores are still hopeful that 2015 will be better. When you walk into any of these stores on Black Friday, you don’t see Alice Walton helping you find a shirt in your size. You see the real heroes of Black Friday, the ones who deal with all the stress and pandemonium — the shift workers.

This year, I spoke with several of the shift workers who you will encounter on Black Friday, and here are some of the things you need to know about them:

Managers try to make the day better for their employees

Barbara Johnston lives in Charlotte, North Carolina and has been a restaurant manager for 17 years.

“My ritual is that before I go to work I buy something for my staff like bagels or candy. I've been in the restaurant industry for 17 years and have yet to work at a store that's slow on Black Friday. My advice for the general public is to remember we are people too. We aren't paid overtime or special pay. I'm on salary and I only get a day off as long as we can hit our numbers.”

On Black Friday, Johnston will be working a 12-hour shift.

Respect the hours on the door

Omar Ali from Atlanta, Georgia has gotten out of the shift work business because it’s too taxing on him. However, last year he was still a cook at Hooters.

“I would work Thanksgiving and Black Friday. Hooters never closes, not even when the CEO died. The servers and cooks would pool our cash and have a potluck dinner. I learned how to fry a turkey, and we would eat together before we opened. We didn't get holiday pay.”

He adds, “I wished that customers realized that many people who work those shifts are forced to. So, show some consideration.”

If the sign says they are about to close for the night, don’t pound on the door demanding a meal 10 minutes before closing. Most shift workers have been there 10-12 hours by then and really want to get home to their families.

As a result of being in the industry, Omar says, “I don't go shopping on Black Friday out of respect for those on the retail front lines. I shop online instead.”

Be kind — shift workers truly want to help you

Kerry Rivelli from East Rutherford, New Jersey works retail at a small store on Black Friday.

“I wish everyone would understand many of us have spouses that don't have to work Black Friday. [While] I am here to do my job and help you out, I am exhausted from the day before and I'm not a robot.”

Come to those working Black Friday with kindness. “We will take care of you,” Rivelli says, “No need to start out yelling and screaming.”

Some workers see Black Friday as a silver lining

It’s not all misery. Many retail workers love their jobs and look forward to helping you. Bob Stein, who works at a Target in New Jersey, tells me:

“I volunteer to work Black Friday. I love talking to the people who shop, I love the controlled chaos and the day goes quickly. It is by far my favorite working day.” Target is very good to their employees, at least his store is. “There is holiday pay, and the store brings in food for its employees to enjoy during break.”

Stein reminds you that, “We do not control the inventory, the prices or others’ behavior.” He suggests leaving young kids at home with a babysitter or grandparent if possible. The crowded environment is not the best place for kids and makes it harder for you to get your shopping done.

Go back to that post-9/11 mentality

Pamela Edson from Montague Michigan worked retail for 15 years. She’s worked every Black Friday since 2000. She told me something fascinating:

“In 2001, following the 9/11 attacks, customers were polite, willing to wait their turn in line, pleasant to interact with and had a sense of true patriotism when spending their money to defeat terrorism. The following year, all things returned to normal with customers being rude, entitled and rushed.”

Plus, each year brought longer hours and earlier openings. She says she couldn’t take it anymore. She found it, “too soul crushing.”

Finally, James Spil, a shift worker and father, from New Jersey says that he worries, “The whole Black Friday message may be ruining family values.”

In her book, Broadcasting Happiness, Michelle Gielan reminds us that negative people increase our stress and make it more difficult for us to see the world in a positive light. Shift workers need your understanding and your positive energy since the inevitable chaos of Black Friday will have a strain on them. Remember that at the same time you are shopping for your family, they are providing for theirs.