Student retail workers face adversity as holiday hours increase

Two customers leave Target with 50″ flat screen TVs in their shopping carts on Thanksgiving during a Black Friday sale in 2016. 

Sydney Novak

The holiday season is celebrated with many different and unique traditions, but one common practice linking people together is commercialism.

This season, shoppers will set out to purchase gifts for their loved ones, especially on Black Friday, which is one of the busiest shopping days of the entire year. With stores opening earlier on Friday and even on Thanksgiving Day, retail workers are often the ones facing the consequences. 

During this time, people who work retail are working more hours than ever. During the holiday season, this often keeps them from celebrating their own traditions and spending time with loved ones. 

Students often face the most repercussions when it comes to working retail, due to pressures from school like homework and exams that are more frequent with breaks nearing. 

 “I have had to cut out a lot of my social life to work and keep up with school this semester,” said Catherine White, a sales associate at Target. “I feel like I get no sleep if I try to do all three all the time, so I usually have to give up one of the three. Sometimes I will give shifts away to hang out with friends or do homework if I have to, but ultimately I give up hanging out with friends. Especially on Fridays and Saturdays when everyone usually hangs out, I’m working.” 

Having time for studies and a healthy lifestyle is important, but it’s one of the difficulties retail associates face in the highly commercialized culture we live in. Weekends for retail workers mean long hours full of folding clothes and helping customers on the sales floor.

Long hours on your feet can be exhausting, but it can prove to be a pro rather than a con for retail employees. 

“I love interacting with customers and merchandising products on the floor,” White said. “I also love how it’s not a desk job because I can walk around.”

Working during the holidays can be a completely different experience than working any other day of the year. The increase of customers and foot traffic in the store naturally means more work to do, which can be stressful.

The likelihood of encountering a conflict with a customer during this time also increases. Depending on the store, employers might increase incentives to work throughout the holiday season.

“Working a lot of hours can draw back on family time, but sometimes it’s something you have to do,” said Elisa Espinoza, former sales associate at Victoria’s Secret. “At Victoria’s Secret, we would hire seasonal staff to help disperse hours or offer more pay and overtime to get people to work.” 

Espinoza, a junior at Iowa State studying apparel, merchandising and design, worked during the holidays and felt that in order to manage the stress that her job caused her, it was important to find someone to talk to about it. In addition to the stress work can cause, there can be anxiety when you are forced to miss social engagements. 

Having the fear of missing out is hard to avoid when you are usually scheduled weekends or evenings. During the holidays, it’s difficult for sales associates to be working instead of spending time with their friends and families, and as if missing out on these things isn’t hard enough, disrespectful customers can make it even worse. 

“A lot of the time in retail, the customers act like they know all the rules and they make up the rules,” Espinoza said. “Dealing with what Victoria’s Secret stands for and keeping the customer satisfied can be very stressful, especially when the customer attacks you personally over something you can’t control about the company.” 

With Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Christmas coming up within the next two months, retail employees are expected to work many more hours than before, allowing stores to be open for those who wish to get everything checked off their lists. 

Being mindful, respectful and kind to those who are working is an appropriate approach this holiday season and can provide an even better shopping experience for all parties involved.