Editor’s Note: Kara Alaimo, an associate professor of public relations at Hofstra University, is the author of “Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication.” She was spokeswoman for international affairs in the Treasury Department during the Obama administration. Follow her on Twitter @karaalaimo. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. View more opinion at CNN.
Every retailer in the nation should take note of Target’s bold announcement this week that it will never again open its stores on Thanksgiving.
The company’s chief executive, Brian Cornell, said he made the decision after employees told him they wanted to spend the holiday with their families – which is, of course, exactly where they should be.
The move to prioritize the well-being of Target’s staffers sends a powerful message about the company’s values at a time when Americans are rethinking our approaches to work. And, whether customers realize it or not, this benefits them, too. Other companies would be smart to follow suit.
In September, 4.4 million Americans quit their jobs – a jaw-dropping record that starkly indicates how the pandemic has prompted Americans to think more deeply about what they value most. The mass exodus, which many are calling the Great Resignation, reflects the country’s newfound recognition that there is more to life than work (or overwork).
Though being closed to customers doesn’t necessarily mean some employees won’t be working, Target’s announcement still sends a strong public signal that the company is getting the message.
The new policy is also shrewd. At a time when many employers are struggling to find and retain workers, it will likely give Target an edge in the hiring wars. Retail workers are traditionally overworked during the crush of consumer demand during the holiday season, and perhaps are even enticed to pick up extra shifts to pay for the holiday festivities of their own families. Of course, to do so means these workers have to sacrifice what they should be able to put above all else: Time with their loved ones, and rest and care for themselves.
As a person whose spouse frequently has to work on major holidays, I can attest to the fact that it takes a real toll on a family not to be able to spend time together on important occasions. This year, my husband is off for Thanksgiving, but it’s a tradeoff for other major holidays. He won’t be around to put out cookies for Santa with our toddler on Christmas Eve, or to watch our baby open presents on her first Christmas morning. These are moments you don’t ever get back.
In my family, these sacrifices are worth it because my husband’s work protects public health. As an emergency room doctor, when he’s not with us he’s often saving people’s lives. The same goes for police officers, firefighters, EMS and other essential workers who we all rely on to keep us safe, even on special days – and to whom we owe a debt of gratitude.
But there’s absolutely no excuse for nonessential employees to be forced to work on major holidays so that people can buy consumer goods.
Americans who are desperate to shop on Thanksgiving can still do so online – or they can buy their products in person before or after the national holiday. But Target’s decision, in addition to sending a message to the business community, also carries a social meaning: it subtly encourages people to focus on the things that really matter, like the people in our lives, instead of consumer culture.
That’s also a very good thing for our country. Research shows that what makes us truly happy is close relationships with other people – not the latest fashions or doorbuster bargains – and that’s exactly what we all should have the ability to seek on Thanksgiving.
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Ultimately, this policy stands to be good for Target’s employees, its consumers and its bottom line. This decision burnishes the company’s reputation as an organization that puts people before profits, and research consistently shows that consumers prefer to patronize companies that have a positive social impact. This is why other retailers and companies which don’t absolutely have to be open on major holidays should quickly announce similar policies.
Thanksgiving is a time when we’re all prompted to think about what really matters. It’s refreshing to see a company do this, too. And if other companies follow Target’s lead, prioritizing rest and personal time when it can mean the most, Americans will have something more to be grateful for this year.