OPT-OUTSIDE ON BLACK FRIDAY THIS YEAR
What happens on the day after Thanksgiving in America? People flood our big stores and shopping centers on the aptly named "Black Friday," when prices are marked down appreciably. And to get a jump on other retailers, some stores have begun to open their doors on Thanksgiving, traditionally a holiday for workers to spend with their families.
Who benefits? Certainly not the shoppers who risk being crushed to death (it has happened!). Nor is it good for the employees, forced to work on a holiday weekend, and as for the shoppers who come home alive, all they have fed is the rampant consumerism that is eating our society from the inside out.
I have called this unabated urge to buy affluenza, and discussed it in both a film (Affluenza, 1997) and a book, Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (2001, 2005, 2014). Americans have had a longtime love affair with stuff, at our own economic and emotional peril.
So let's cheer for one company that said, "STOP!" Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI), a major retailer, sent shock waves through American business by announcing that it would not open any of its 143 stores on either Thanksgiving or Black Friday, encouraging its employees to spend the time with their families and #OptOutside–that is, get out in the parks and the countryside and enjoy nature together. Importantly, REI's employees will receive holiday pay for the days off.
REI is not a traditional business. Founded in 1938 here in Seattle where I live, it's a consumer co-operative with 5.5 million members. "We're a different kind of company," REI CEO Jerry Stritzke says, "and while the rest of the world is fighting it out in the aisles, we'll be spending our day a little differently. It's an act where we're really making a very clear statement about a set of values."
A few smaller companies share those values and are following REI's lead. The values include respect for workers' time and relationships and a clear understanding of the value of work-leisure balance (which is perhaps not surprising since REI sells leisure goods, but is still an unusual practice for businesses).
In effect, REI will be giving its workers a mini-vacation of four days to enjoy themselves with friends and family. As a country, we need more of these breaks and not just at Thanksgiving. More long weekends will help relieve the epidemic of workplace stress that (according to cardiologist Sarah Speck) represents "the new tobacco" in terms of its impact on Americans' health. But we also need longer vacation breaks, which, as Take Back Your Time board member Joe Robinson points out in his book, Work to Live, offer the only real cure for work burnout.
REI understands another important fact: experiences bring more long-term satisfaction than stuff. This is common knowledge in the field of positive psychology (see for example, the website www.beyondthepurchase.org). Time spent doing active things or simply sharing good conversations, either on long weekends or during vacation time, ends up being more satisfying than yet another product that must be maintained and stored.
Americans actually understand this also. A poll conducted by the Everett (WA) Herald newspaper found that 88 percent of respondents said they supported REI's decision.
"Yes, I'll support businesses that treat employees well," they answered overwhelmingly to the question.
And yet, Americans continue to work more to pay for all that accumulated stuff. And as incomes have leveled or fallen for many, they still buy more and more, using credit, and getting deeper into debt–what sociologist Juliet Schor has called a "work-spend cycle." But it's now become a work-spend-work even more cycle. When people are in debt, they often feel like they have to take on extra work or overtime to "make ends meet."
CHANGING OUR VALUES
As big as it is, REI's decision represents only a drop in the business bucket for Black Friday. But it's an important step toward a values change in America, and one that Take Back Your Time can fully get behind. Let's get smart and make work-leisure balance the "next big thing" in America. It will do a lot more for all of us than another flat screen TV or smart phone upgrade.
So follow REI's lead, opt outside (or in a museum, etc.) instead of throwing money at stuff on Black Friday.
John de Graaf is the president of Take Back Your Time and a proponent for "Opt-Outside"