Monday, October 02, 2006

Wal-Mart's New Employment Policy

The New York Times reports that Wal-Mart is increasing the number of part-time workers from 20% to 40% of their workforce. The workers are expected to be "on call" 24/7 with no concrete work hours. The ostensible goal is to cut overhead and increase staffing during rush times--have people working only when they are really busy.

I worry that in the drive to push up there share price by making Wall Street happy with their payroll numbers and cents, they will piss off employees and push them into unionization. That would cause a much bigger problem on Wall Street, I think.

Here is my personal Wal-Mart experience over the last two weeks: I had ordered this online. For free shipping I could pick it up at the Lay-Away desk at the store. There was only one problem: there was no worker in Lay-Away. The guy in line ahead of me had waited one whole hour before being helped. I waited approximately 25 minutes.

The manager who finally came to our rescue said that they couldn't get anyone for the job. Everyone quit who took that position. She said it was a full-time managerial position.

There were workers around. In fact, as Lay-Away is right next to the staff lounge and the bathrooms, multiple associates ambled by. Not one inquired about helping us or seeking the right person to help. Almost all said, "I don't work there. I'm not trained" or some such excuse for ignoring us. The man ahead of me in line said that he had waited this long before.

As an aside, the store was, and usually is, in more disarry than one would expect for a Wal-Mart. In spite of this, they must do brisk business, because Wal-Mart is building across the street and creating a SuperCenter.

So now, Wal-Mart wants to increase the number of part-time (no retirement dollars), no-talent, ass-clowns on the dole? They seem to just be looking for warm bodies. They seem to find the barely undead in frighteningly high numbers.

Is this policy going to ultimately help Wal-Mart? Probably in the short term, payroll costs decline. In the long-term, retirement pay-outs are minimized. In the medium-term, will they lose customers because they show scorn to them? Or, will people like me, be willing to stand around for 45 minutes because the price for the product was half of any other retail outlet?

Time will tell if this policy is foolish. When customer service becomes non-existent, customers tend to vanish even with the every day low price when a few bucks more might gets some intelligent help.


Anonymous said...

When Sam was still alive, WalMart was a better company all the way around.
According to some experts it is still one of the best companies in America.
I've begun to doubt that for the past number of year.This is why:

* Bad customer service
* Unorganized store
* Very filthy bathrooms
* Employees who are it seems.

We will see where WalMart is heading.

Dr. Melissa said...

I think when the customer decides that the frustration isn't worth the low prices, Wal-Mart will go the other direction.

Not all stores are that bad. But I do notice that there is a price to be paid for employeeing people with no smarts or drive.

A cashier at one of the nicer Wal-Marts was being investigated as I stood there because she kept forgetting to give people their change. She was $250 to the good after half the day. The store manager looked apoplectic, but how do you make that wrong right? She was a complete dumbass and deserved to be fired, but it didn't look like that was going to happen.

David said...

It's not obvious that "part time" means "lower quality." Maybe some of the part-timers are retired people, for example, who want to pick up a little extra money but don't want or need a FT job.

Dr. Melissa said...

That's a valid point that is it odds with the empirical evidence I've gathered at my area Wal-Marts.

Hey, retirees join the Wal-Mart family. I, for one, welcome you to the underserved service industry.

Anonymous said...

I've had some very good experiences at WM and i've had some bad ones. The bad are usually (but not all the time) with younger employees. They have no sense of customer service or any inclination to practice it or learn the concept. In addition they are undependable. It has more to do i think with the area that the WM is located. The service at the stores can only be as good as the local work pool. I like the WM's...great prices, good to excellent quality on most things...who can complain about saving money. When Walmart DOES hire GOOD help, that person usually rises quickly in the company and in my opinion they have good benefits. The young feel that they have to start out at the top of the salary scale and they want to do nothing to earn it. Unfortunately those people are usually the ones that apply for for work at walmart.

Dr. Melissa said...

While it is true that Wal-Mart plucks the talent and give them raises. The hourly employee is most often interacting with the customer.

I have seen a trend from happy and helpful to angry and lazy. It applies across the ages.

My personal experience can't be generalized, of course. There are three stores right in my area and the service is uneven. One store shines (mostly). The other two..... well, unless I have an emergency I don't go there.

ilona said...

I surmise you are seeing the result of two trends.

The trend to do "on call" part timers in business is happening widely. My daughter has worked in two jobs since the past spring that have (without official notice) been mainstreaming this into their employment practices (one of these being a Limited-affiliated store), the other was a restaurant that additionally kept sending employees home when things were a bit slow (the reason for a job change on her part) which creates a de facto on-call situation. She is a pleasant and helpful employee.

The other trend is the fact that employees are not fully trained and the overall quality of the worker is dropping. I think this mirrors American society at large. You don't teach good manners and work ethic- then you are not going to get general employees with same.

Additionally I just don't think there is much show of appreciation to good employees - whether from the employer or the customers served. Sorry -but that's how I see it.

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