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Under Pressure: The Darker Side of Black Friday

Kylie Mansfield

The World Health Organisation officially declared ‘burnout’ to be an occupational phenomenon earlier this year, add that to the fact that work-related stress is attributed to 13% of the 6,507 suicides in the UK every year and it’s no wonder businesses are upping their game when it comes to monitoring and protecting the mental wellbeing of their workers. Contributor Kylie Mansfield, VP of Customer Success – Eko. 

Of course, high pressure, peak seasonal periods don’t help matters and next on the agenda is Black Friday, arguably one of the most stressful weekends in the annual retail calendar and not just for bargain hungry shoppers influenced by FOMO (Fear of Missing Out).  

Latest research* reveals that Brits plan to spend an estimated £7 billion on Black Friday and Cyber Monday purchases this year alone and that inevitably means huge, often uncontrollable crowds and greater pressure on staff who will also be feeling the heat.  In non-desk and front line retail environments the impact is further exacerbated, particularly as those workers are often more isolated and disconnected from the wider business community in comparison to desk-based employees. These high-pressured environments can be extremely overwhelming and distressing for employees particularly if they haven’t been adequately trained to perform their roles effectively under such conditions.   

Burnout and stress are the ‘darker’ realities
The scenario becomes even more challenging if lack of clarity and internal communications leads to delays and inefficiencies within the teams.  Add to this, the fact that customers tend to be less patient and amicable in their panic to secure the next one-time deal, which only compounds the level of stress an employee might be feeling. Before long you have a ‘rabbit caught in headlights’ scenario, which not only negatively impacts the employees state of mind but does very little to boost team motivation and productivity during what is a potentially a very lucrative period for businesses.

Peak events like these put employees under a huge amount of pressure, both physically and mentally.  Burnout and rising stress levels are the darker realities of Black Friday and could have a detrimental effect on employee health in the short and longer term, leading to more serious mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression.  So, what can businesses do to help tackle this issue and keep staff engaged and motivated, while taking into account the potential impact to mental wellbeing?

Providing varied and appropriate channels of communication is the name of the game and leaders must be ‘visible’ and approachable to staff.  Look out for potential signs that your employees may be struggling.  That might include more obvious signs such as shortness of breath and sweating or displays of heightened emotion such as anger, panic or tears.  There are also more difficult-to-spot signs too; those employees that conceal their worries, for instance, you may notice someone is unusually quiet or withdrawn, isn’t eating properly or taking regular breaks. All of these signs are indicators that your employee is suffering and communication and recognition is key in managing a supportive and positive outcome.  

Disconnected teams don’t communicate
Of course, signs that your workforce is struggling often manifest in the form of decreased sales, increased absence rates, high staff turnover and lack of motivation or engagement within the team. There will be the obvious signs that your team is feeling disconnected, aside from the fact that work peers are not hanging out together or building lasting friendships, it will also spill over and eventually affect operational efficiency too.

Disconnected teams also don’t communicate well, so this lack of alignment causes duplicated effort and failure to complete tasks and meet deadlines.    For non-desk employees dispersed across various locations, it’s also difficult to keep communications transparent and operations streamlined, both of which are crucial elements needed to meet the high demands of a period like Black Friday. Without this visibility, it’s difficult to foster a tight-knit work ethic, keep employees informed about tasks and updates and gain clear insight into task progression. To tackle this issue, many companies have been turning to innovative workplace technologies to help bridge these gaps in communication without employees having to physically be in the same place.

Events like Black Friday are huge for businesses in terms of revenue generation and there is great benefit in planning ahead of time to ensure that your employees feel prepared, secure, happy and motivated in the lead up to these peak periods.  Companies should start by nurturing a greater sense of community and ‘team spirit’ in the lead up to the event to prevent employees from feeling like they are tackling Black Friday alone.  

Fit for purpose training often overlooked
Where companies often go wrong is from a training perspective.  It is common for businesses to take on extra staff to compensate for the high demand during periods like Black Friday, but they don’t often go through the effort of training them properly, since they are only there ‘temporarily’ for the season (or even the day). The truth is proper training goes a long way in keeping that staff member fully informed and equipped to perform their tasks to the best of their ability, in turn preventing them from becoming overstressed. It’s also important to foster an open tight-knit culture where employees feel they can openly ask for help and be able to rely on their peers. Companies often overlook the importance of workplace relations and the difference it makes during such a stressful time. 

Before the period begins businesses should also ensure that staff are trained properly so they feel empowered and equipped to face the high-pressure environment of Black Friday, equally managers need to be trained on how to support staff emotionally during this time. Well-informed staff are always more productive staff regardless of whether they are full time, part time or temporary workers – inclusion matters. Make sure teams and individuals understand their scope of responsibilities and where possible make use of fit for purpose workplace technology to streamline operations with clear task assignment, checklists and instant announcements to keep the flow of communication regular and consistent. 

Sharing achievable team targets transparently helps too as does distributing workloads fairly while enabling channels for constant team communication and feedback.  Creating strong relationships within the team in an environment where everyone trusts each other is vital.  It’s important for employees to keep talking and that leaders recognise and reward the hard work, regularly reinforcing the message that individual efforts are valued. Create room for both peer-to-peer commendations as well as praise from managers and make it instant and public if possible – there is nothing quite like an ‘on the spot’ motivational boost, especially during a high pressured working day.

Widen channels of communication
The wider the selection of communication channels available to your employees, the more effectively your staff and management will be able to connect with each other in ways that resonate with them.  Try and use these channels to generate feedback to create an environment where employees feel able to talk about their struggles or concerns.

Peak seasons and events provide a great opportunity for businesses to maximise their revenues ahead of the New Year but staying on the ‘lighter side’ of Black Friday is becoming more relevant today, in a fast-paced, pressurised working world where wellbeing really does impact bottom line, employers need to focus on retaining and training staff, boosting engagement and keeping their teams motivated and productive to avoid the potentially darker side of Black Friday.  

In summary:

-Praise hard work often and give tangible rewards

-Equip teams with the right tools to communicate effectively

-Communicate targets and task delegation with clarity 

-Train staff properly to prepare them for the high demands they will face

-Foster a tight-knit community of trusts and friendship

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