Wal-Mart Seeks New Flexibility In Worker Shifts

Wal-Mart Seeks New Flexibility In Worker Shifts – Preview

The nation’s biggest private employer is about to revamp the way it schedules its work force, in a move that could shake up many employees’ lives.Early this year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., using a new computerized scheduling system, will start moving many of its 1.3 million workers from predictable shifts to a system based on the number of customers in stores at any given time. The move promises greater productivity and customer satisfaction for the huge retailer but could be a major headache for employees.

If not handled carefully this seems like it could have a heavy negative impact on employee satisfaction. Hourly employees report high dissatisfaction with flexible scheduling (How do you coordinate child care, school pick-up, doctor’s appointments, etc. if you don’t know when you will be working?) and this is likely to make it worse.

With few exceptions (see Costco) retailers suffer from very high turnover which imposes a heavy cost in terms of customer service and productivity. Will the benefits of increased use of flexible scheduling outweigh the costs? I wonder.

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3 Responses to Wal-Mart Seeks New Flexibility In Worker Shifts

  1. Nancy Berger says:

    Greater productivity and customer satisfaction are important factors any business must take into account when scheduling employees. However,I believe one equally important factor that according to the article, Wal-Mart and possibly other businesses often neglect to include in their equation is employee satisfaction.

    As an HR consultant and team member of Kappix ( http://www.kappix.com) producer of DRoster Employee Scheduling Software, I feel it is regrettable when a company fails to see employee satisfaction as one of their most valuable resources.

    Although Wal-Mart has been suffering from continued attacks by parts of the public and consequently from a questionable image, it seems they wasted a grand opportunity to not only salvage their public image but to instill a sense of employee pride.

    How so? Instead of leaving employees’ scheduling preferences out of the software program’s parameters, Wal-Mart could have easily included preferences into their rule-based scheduling. Inclusion of employees’ shift preferences and availability need not affect customer satisfaction and optimised schedules and staffing levels.

    With such sophisticated software (I believe WSJ mentioned Kronos), I see no reason why the company could not walk the extra mile for their ‘valued’ employees.

    True, it might mean a slightly larger payroll for Wal-Mart but they’d still be saving and better, they’d be rectifying their bruised image and building a positive work environment in which every employee can feel proud of working for this retail giant.

    Software can be configured and set to specific parameters; the hearts and minds of the people in the corporate world behind the software cannot be configured and set to align with values and work ethics if they weren’t there to begin with.

    Nancy from Kappix

    P.S
    For the sake of fairness and balance, I’ve added a link to a Wal-Mart sponsored site that includes their response to the WSJ article.

    http://www.walmartfacts.com/articles/4674.aspx

  2. To be upfront, I happen to be associated with Asgard Systems, who are publishers of employee scheduling software. We are not the suppliers of Wal-Mart’s employee scheduling software and are on unaware of what product they are using.

    Even if Wal-Mart still uses a pencil and paper to produce their employee schedules, they might still implement policies and procedures that would promote their own corporate interests. The promotional literature that we provide regarding our product does directly address organizational scheduling needs. However, such needs include taking the employees personal life into perspective as well. An example is the priority given to personal conflicting events such as night school, taking care of sick parents, weddings etc. Such issues are promoted at our website (www.asgardsystems.com), in our free trial version and our instructional movies. I am very pleased to say that, most employers express the need of having to contend with the humanistic aspects of managing an organization. Their needs dictate our products design and the design of our competitors’ products as well.

  3. tomob says:

    Hi Michael:

    I have to agree with you – the software is just a tool. Not good or bad. My concern – as mentioned above – is that taken to extremes, flexible scheduling will take a high toll on employees – and needs to be utilized carefully.

    I think the biggest cost it will impose – if not managed properly – is to significantly increase turnover. And if you are Wal-Mart – increased turnover is not a good thing. Most retailers are in a never ending quest for good entry-level and part-time employees, and I think poor use of on-demand scheduling will significantly decrease job satisfaction – and increase turnover. Finally, the employees most likely to leave are those with the most skills (they can easily get other jobs) not those with the least skills. A double whammy.

    Tom O’B

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