A Survival Guide for Students Who Have to Work on Black Friday

Tips for working on Black Friday

Michele Paccione / Shutterstock.com

For some people, Black Friday can be a really fun experience. Traveling to the mall, waiting outside at 4:30 a.m. for the shops to open, and buying all the necessary holiday gifts for the upcoming season is exhilarating and leaves a feeling of accomplishment. Then, there is the dark side of Black Friday. You hear about people getting into fistfights over the last big screen TV and, if that’s not bad enough, people being trampled to death as the crowds rush in.

As a rule, I don’t shop on Black Friday. Cyber Monday? Yes, please. Shopping from the comfort of my own home has become more and more exciting the older I’ve gotten. But Black Friday shopping is my personal nightmare. And, here’s a fun fact: If you shop throughout the year, you’re more than likely to find deals better than the ones you’ll get on Black Friday. But, if that’s not enough of a reason to skip Black Friday, think about the workers.

Last year, I was one of them. My store started Black Friday at 4:00 p.m. on Thanksgiving Day. I had to get there an hour early, and there was a line of people waiting outside of the store (a nationwide clothing retailer). My shift lasted through 1:00 a.m., and the entire time I was there, the store was packed. People were not as rowdy as in some of the horror stories I’ve heard, but it’s definitely not the way I wanted to spend my Thanksgiving. It seems just a tad problematic to me that Black Friday starts mid-afternoon on Thursday.

If you’re one of the unlucky ones who is working on Black Friday, be it in retail, food service, or something else, here are a few tips to help you get through your shift:

  • Wear good shoes. You’re going to be dealing with chaos, so you may as well be comfortable. Plus, if your feet hurt, you’re more likely to get cranky and upset with customers who think they know better than you. Avoid the confrontation and wear some tennis shoes with gel insoles. This is especially important for people who are going to be on their feet all day (looking at you retail, waitstaff, cooks, and baristas).
    A crowded shopping mall on Black Friday; working retail during the holidays can be crazy.

    Dmitrijs Dmitrijevs / Shutterstock.com

  • Make sure you’ve eaten a good meal before the start of your shift, and pack a snack anyway. I don’t know about you, but I can become “hangry.” The last thing you want in the middle of an eight-hour shift is to get so hungry that you start snapping at customers (even if they’ve already been snapping at you). Don’t eat so much ahead of time that you feel like you need to go sleep it off, but have a regular meal. Pack a snack to eat on your break to tide you over ‘til you get to go home.
  • Bring a water bottle. Staying hydrated is key to getting through a tough shift, and arguably, Black Friday shifts are the toughest of all. Having enough water will keep you from getting tired, cranky, and light-headed. Stash a water bottle somewhere near your workspace and drink from it frequently.
  • Wear layers; you’ll get hot. When lots of people crowd into an enclosed area, the temperature rises. Wear a sweater over a tee-shirt, if you’re allowed to pick what you wear, and be ready to shed some layers when the crowd rushes in. If you can’t pick your clothes, be ready to roll up your sleeves, or make sure that water bottle has plenty of ice in it.
  • Show up well-rested. Functioning on a less-than-ideal amount of sleep can be hard, especially if you have to interact with people. Do yourself a favor and skip the late-night movie session before you have to go in for an early shift. If you get the night shift, nap before you go into work.
  • Don’t drink too much at Thanksgiving dinner. The last thing you want is to be hungover while you’re working on Black Friday of all days. (No, I’m not ever condoning being hungover at work, but a busy day would probably make you feel worse). The thing about Black Friday is that you can’t call in sick, because your boss will just assume that you’re trying to get out of work. At my job, if you couldn’t work Black Friday, you weren’t hired in the first place. It’s an all-hands-on-deck kind of day. Do yourself a favor and save the alcohol for another night.
    A girl working on Black Friday completes a transaction with a customer.

    Nejron Photo / Shutterstock.com

  • Try to stay calm. Fighting with a customer, panicking when something sells out, or generally succumbing to crowd mentality won’t do you any good. The customer is always right, even when she’s wrong. If someone really starts giving you a lot of trouble, pawn them off on a manager and know that you didn’t do anything wrong.
  • Make sure you get your breaks. Depending on how long your shift is and what company you work for, you may be required to take a 15-minute (or longer) break. With all of the craziness that is Black Friday, you may not be reminded of your break, or even remember that you should be taking one yourself. That time is owed to you, though, and may be one of the few things that keeps you sane during your shift.

Yes, many of these tips are to help you avoid getting cranky, angry, “hangry,” or sick while you’re slogging through your Black Friday shift. They may seem like common sense, but we all know that common sense doesn’t always prevail. I, for one, have gotten so upset at a customer that I had to leave the floor for a few minutes because, yes, she made me cry. And, of course, the fact that I was tired and hungry probably had something to do with that reaction. So, do yourself a favor and don’t be like me. Follow these tips for working on Black Friday to make it through your shift no worse for wear.

About Megan Clendenon

Megan C. is obsessed with Cincinnati-style chili, Louisville basketball, and Scandinavian crime fiction. She has lived in six different states and held 12 different jobs since beginning her undergraduate degree at Carleton College in 2008. The wanderlust abated somewhat in recent years, as Megan settled in Texas from 2013 to 2016 to finish a master’s degree in geosciences, write a thesis on the future horrors that stem from climate change, and get married. During her free time, you will find Megan sitting on the couch, cheering for her Louisville Cardinals, planning future adventures abroad, and snuggling with her dog, Tiger. She currently lives outside of Washington D.C.

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