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Robert Darling



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Employee engagement: will Black Friday pull you in a darker direction?

Black Friday is a challenging time for customer-facing staff.

Black Friday is one of the most stressful and high-pressure weekends of the year for the retail sector. Big crowds, huge anticipation, panic-fuelled, bargain hungry consumers, all waiting to get their hands on the deal of the decade. It’s no wonder Black Friday can be an emotional rollercoaster for many – not just for the bargain hunters, but those working in front line retail environments are feeling the tension too.

It’s not hard to see why periods like Black Friday can have a detrimental impact on employee wellbeing and productivity, not to mention absenteeism and motivation.

We’ve all seen the stats around stress and mental illness in the workplace, the rising decline in team culture and the lack of trust in leadership today.  Events like Black Friday can potentially put even greater strain and pressure on an already fragile workforce, so it is hugely important for businesses to remain connected and engaged with their workers. The problem is, when it comes to big profitable seasons like Christmas, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, business leaders are often focused on two things: marketing the opportunity and generating more revenue.

Understandably, the lead up to these ‘one time’ events becomes all-consumed with promotional offers, discounts, competing with rivals and being ‘first’. It’s all about targets and meeting those targets at any cost, after all this is one of the busiest shopping periods of the year so it’s an important opportunity for employers to make some impactful revenue leaps.


While business leaders are focused on numbers and growth, employees are doing quite the reverse. They are instead, stressing about an overwhelming surge of customers, many of whom are hyped-up to the max with the lure of ‘crazy’ one-off deals, and that can lead to impatient and sometimes aggressive customer behaviour.

Being on the front line, tasked with serving such a massive crowd of emotionally-charged customers, can be extremely daunting, particularly when combined with the manic rush culture and sense of urgency that always surrounds these events.

So, it’s not hard to see why periods like Black Friday can have a detrimental impact on employee wellbeing and productivity, not to mention absenteeism and motivation. It can be difficult to connect with non-desk workers too, simply because they are dispersed around the building performing separate tasks.

Businesses need to prevent the possibility of burnout and associated anxiety from creeping into the mix. These are two very common side effects of a busy retail period.

In this kind of environment, managers can find it challenging to form close relationships with individual employees or build a sense of team unity. In turn, it’s easy for these employees to feel isolated and lonely at work, without visibility into how they can better connect with peers around them.

For managers, it is important they have regular check-ins with their teams to ensure they are coping and are prepared for the huge influx of customers. This can be challenging for retail businesses, particularly with workers spread across multiple locations. High absence and turnover rates are usually a strong indicator that employees aren’t happy.

The first signs leading to this are low morale or motivation levels, missed deadlines and uncompleted tasks. You may also spot signs of isolation in the workforce and low productivity levels. It’s crucial to look out for these signs as they can have a fundamental effect on the overall sales success of the business and customer satisfaction levels.

Preventing burnout

During high-pressure periods, it becomes even more important for managers to reach employees instantly regardless of location and then use this time to monitor employee wellbeing, reinforce goals and objectives and manage the process for tracking performance and achieving targets. Many working in front line environments are turning to workplace technology to facilitate this need. Most importantly, businesses need to prevent the possibility of burnout and associated anxiety from creeping into the mix. These are two very common side effects of a busy retail period.

Employers can do several things to counteract this, from reassuring their teams that they care about their health and wellbeing by setting up regular breaks and shift swaps to avoid overload, to providing ad-hoc support and coaching as well as adequate training ahead of time, so workers feel confident and equipped to face the high numbers of demanding customers. Making sure that any training materials and learning documents are easily accessible at all times can also be helpful for staff.

United not isolated

Receiving and responding to feedback is also important. First off, the fact that you’re receiving concerns from employees shows that there is a channel for communication, which is a positive first step but how you respond is equally important. It’s also a good idea to set targets up front to create a sense of camaraderie and team spirit around this, fostering the vision that you are all working towards one common goal together. This will encourage a sense of belonging and help employees to feel united rather than isolated during this tough period.

Another thing that can really help connect workers and bridge the communication gap during periods like Black Friday is mobile-led technology, which is specifically designed to boost employee engagement. This kind of technology offers a channel for employees to converse, collaborate, assign tasks and receive company updates instantly, in a familiar way on their phone no matter where they are.

Turn to the ‘light’ side

In summary, Black Friday needn’t pull your employees or your business in a dark direction. There are ways to manage the pressure in advance, but preparation and planning as usual are key, so focus on the following to take the right steps towards a more productive and potentially more lucrative period:

  1. Make regular, in the moment, company-wide announcements to keep staff informed on updates and provide ongoing feedback from management.
  2. Champion an ‘open door’ policy via well-trained managers who know how to support their teams both emotionally and practically with regular one-on-one meetings.
  3. Make use of available technology to enable instant and open communications at all times to help boost workplace friendships and create a sense of community.
  4. Encourage employees to see this challenging period as an opportunity for growth with clear goals and responsibilities and then equip them with the right tools to achieve these goals.
  5. Recognise hard work often because an encouraging word from a peer or manager can go a long way in keeping staff motivated and feeling valued just at the moment they need it.

Interested in this topic? Read Three ways to avoid the disengagement danger zone.

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Robert Darling


Read more from Robert Darling

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