At most U.S. companies, employees have a paid day off from work on Thanksgiving so they can spend time with the people who matter most. The day after Thanksgiving, also known as Black Friday, has become increasingly recognized as an extension of the holiday. In fact, 20 states have designated the fourth Friday in November as its own distinct state holiday.
Whether you’re a small business owner who’s preparing your business for Thanksgiving for the first time, an HR professional whose company is restructuring its holiday policies, or an employee who’s curious about how your employer’s policy stacks up against other companies’, you might be wondering how businesses typically approach the Thanksgiving season.
Local and state governments often consider the day after Thanksgiving a paid holiday. Public and private schools across the U.S. are also closed the Friday after Thanksgiving, so students have an extra-long weekend. And, in recent years, more employers have begun following their lead and treating the day after Thanksgiving as a paid holiday.
It’s not just about extending Thanksgiving into a four-day weekend. There appear to be tangible benefits for employers, like improved employee morale and increased productivity. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) tracks holiday policies as part of its National Compensation Survey. By looking closely at the ways businesses approach tricky “holidays” such as Black Friday, you can glean some insight into how to choose which days to designate as paid holidays.
Although the most recent BLS holiday data comes from 2018, it can still provide some instructive information and guidance as you consider the best paid holiday policy for your situation.
All federal workers receive Thanksgiving off from work, as it’s a federal holiday. While nonfederal employers are not required to provide paid holidays, the vast majority do offer employees paid time off (PTO) for Thanksgiving. The BLS reports that 97% of civilian and private industry workers have PTO for the holiday, as do a whopping 99% of state and local government workers.
Service occupations, which include retail and food service, are the least likely to have the day off; on average, 91% have this day off, compared with 99% of management, business, financial and professional laborers. This is because, while administrative offices almost always close for the holiday, many grocery stores, large retailers and restaurants remain open, though they may operate on altered hours. Despite these exceptions, most businesses are aligned in offering the day off.
Holiday policies for the day after Thanksgiving vary much more than for Thanksgiving Day. Overall, 43% of all workers get a paid day off on Black Friday, but the differences across types of businesses are substantial.
At the lowest end of the scale, only 21% of private industry service workers have a day off with pay. Civilian service workers are somewhat more likely to have the holiday off, at 30%. These figures are unsurprising, as Black Friday is one of the biggest shopping days of the year. Many retailers do elect to offer employees who work the grueling Black Friday shifts a bonus or time-and-a-half pay, even when they are not legally obligated to. Government service workers, on the other hand, are significantly more likely than the average worker to have the day off, at 68%.
The group most likely to have a paid holiday the day after Thanksgiving, however, comprises state and local government construction, maintenance and natural resources workers, at 73%. Overall, 69% of government workers have the day after Thanksgiving off, compared with 43% for civilian workers and 39% of private industry workers.
Interestingly, far fewer state and local workers in the Northeast have a paid holiday on Black Friday than in any other region. While Midwestern, Southern and Western states give employees the day off between 65% and 77% of the time, Northeastern states do so only 47% of the time. Overall, the percentage of companies providing a longer Thanksgiving holiday has remained significant, especially in comparison with the early days of the survey.
Nearly all employers that offer paid holidays include Thanksgiving in their policies. Many also include the day after Thanksgiving, but it varies significantly across different industries and workplace types.
For several years, retailers experimented with opening earlier on Thanksgiving evening to prepare for the Black Friday rush. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic has shown people the essential role that workers in retail settings play in our society, expecting employees to work on Thanksgiving could actually hurt retailers’ reputations. According to a 2020 Accenture survey, 76% of consumers want stores to remain closed on the holiday so workers can spend time with their families.
Offering employees holiday time off is not only helpful for maintaining your company’s reputation; it’s also important for fostering a positive company culture and preventing employee burnout. In addition, a competitive paid-holiday policy can help you attract strong candidates to your company. It signals that your business values your employees’ work-life balance, respects their needs and boundaries, and appreciates them as members of your team. In turn, these policies also minimize employee turnover. Showing your employees that you value their time and well-being fosters a culture of trust and mutual respect.
Paid holiday time also increases productivity. A study conducted by Harvard Business Review found a strong, consistent correlation between time away from work and productivity in the workplace. Time away from work leads to not only better overall health and happiness at home but also greater success at work. Conversely, going into work while everyone else seems to be celebrating a holiday, or even taking time off without pay and having to stress about making ends meet, is harmful for both workplace morale and individual well-being.
Finally, paid holidays offer practical and administrative advantages. Because many people travel to spend time with loved ones during the holiday, many employees will likely request paid time off on major holidays as well as the days before or after, like Black Friday. This can create a situation where too many people are out of the office for days at a time or where some people who do not receive the time off become dissatisfied with the workplace. Alternatively, some employees may be forced to use sick time, to their own detriment and to the detriment of the company. A generous paid-holiday policy can help you circumvent these issues.
While it’s generally a good idea to offer a robust and generous paid-holiday policy, the details of that policy will depend on your company’s needs. When possible, include the whole workplace in that decision. Companies with remote or hybrid staff, for example, may find that employees don’t want the day after Thanksgiving off because they can work on the go. Instead, they might want to replace it with a different day.
It’s also important to note that federal holidays are not always the holidays your employees might celebrate, so you might want to swap them with other days. Floating-holiday policies can also be a great fit for workplaces with many employees from a wide range of cultures and religious traditions. No matter the situation, paid holidays are important for your company’s morale and your team’s well-being.