Friday, January 27, 2006

Our People Make The Difference

My first couple of weeks at WAL-MART were pretty rough. What made it bearable were the associates that I worked with; their people truly made the difference. A single interesting breakroom conversation could make my entire day worthwhile. Don’t get me wrong, getting employees to open up to me was not an easy task. For the first few weeks I focused nearly exclusively on getting to know as many of my co-workers as possible and slowly building a rapport with them (not an easy task since this required me to memorize a couple hundred names...) I knew that a new associate coming in with a barrage of questions would raise a lot of eyebrows and only cause them to clam up, so I practiced as much restraint as possible, letting them open up to me on their own terms. And they did.

Some people were very friendly, like the two greying women who were veterans of the sales floor and welcomed me during my first lunch break. It was fascinating to listen to them defend one of the company's policies then turn around and lament that they couldn't afford to spend $10 on a Halloween costume without a trace of irony. Others, like the rambunctious associate I met in the parking lot minutes later, mocked WAL-MART openly for its foolish company cheer and its customers for only caring about "everyday low prices." Sadly, few other associates were this brave. The vast majority fell in between these two extremes, doing their job without complaint and refusing to hold the corporation responsible for their predicament. I found this tendency to be both honorable and maddening, ultimately falling in love with my co-workers for both their strength and weakness.

But what made the job of befriending my fellow associates even harder was WAL-MART’s usage of a classic tactic of oppressors: conquer and divide. Whenever possible the company attempts to isolate its workers, the obvious aim being to prevent any attempts at unionizing the store. Example: there is no official area for employees to take a smoke break outside. Instead when they are on break they are supposed to smoke in their car, which many do. Another instance is how the break room is almost always a mess, and with only 20 seats far too small to accommodate the 460 employees that work there. In addition to this, management seizes every opportunity to reduce it even further by storing shipments or layaway packages, removing tables and chairs, and not providing enough space in the refrigerator or coat-rack. This inhospitable environment leads many employees to lunch elsewhere, going home, going for fast-food, or going to eat alone in their car. The few employees who do stay still isolate themselves, many talking in hushed tones on their cell phones or losing themselves in the community newspaper. My early attempts to strike up conversation were often awkward and pained since that clearly didn’t happen here... WAL-MART wouldn't have it any other way.

10 comments:

DL said...

You are preaching to the choir as far as I am concerned. I haven't been in a walmart in a couple years and that was only because they were the only place in town that had what I needed and I needed the item badly. Unfortunately, part of your description of walmart reminds me of the "way too huge" company I work for. Everybody says the right thing but when reality hits, it hurts everyone. Yeah, the stockholders get their quarterly profits but everybody else loses. And the stockholders move on to another low price opportunity.

An Associate said...

thanks, dl. i appreciate your effort to avoid shopping at wal-mart but want you to know that you really don't have to make excuses or apologize when you go into the store. sometimes it is the only option since the company forces out all of the smaller businesses in town. i think being conscious of the costs of shopping at wal-mart and making an honest effort not to support the corporation whenever possible is the key.

DL said...

Here's a book about Wal-Mart and a link to a review that might interest you. Note: don't buy the book at Wal-Mart.

The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works--And How It's Transforming the American Economy
by Charles Fishman

Read today's review in HTML at:
http://www.powells.com/pow/review/2006_02_11

Alex said...

Great blog. I've avoided Walmart for many years. I welcome debates about Walmart with others who defend Walmart. This sentence you wrote below just begs another huge question.

"The vast majority fell in between these two extremes, doing their job without complaint and refusing to hold the corporation responsible for their predicament."

That is a statement that any right winger or fundamentalist capitalist (the likes of which I argue with daily) will seize upon and retort "how is this the corporation's responsibility? The worker CHOOSES to work there. The corporation is only doing its job: making money. The worker should go work somewhere else then, thats the problem with you liberals, thinking you deserve a handout blah blah blah blah etc."

(I've just started reading your blog from beginning to end so maybe you've already addressed this)

Why do people choose to work there? (is it even a choice?)

wally-world worker said...

Hey, i just recently found your blog, and i like it. everything you say is so true. I have worked for walmart for about 2 and half years. my store is truley horrible. We are about to receive our profit sharing checks and it will be for 200 dollars, but we were never supposed to receive anything. apparently our district amnager inflated all the numbers at the begginning of the year so it would seem like we were awsome. On this note our store fired alot of people and raised our prices (since we were supposidly doing so good). Well now we are so short handed that everone in our store has to finish their own job faster now then move to another deptment to do someone elses before we are allowed to go home.
ohh and about the open door policy. At my store if you choose to go the the store manager over your direct supervisor.. The store manager will talk with whom ever you have an issue with and will actually tell them your name and what your problem was. Then its all down hill from there. So we all just choose not to complain. "GRIN AND BARE IT" should be walmarts slogan.
My store manager also doesnt give out "marret raises", he saves them all for the managers. And he cuts our raises so he can get his bonus checks every month. What does he need a freakin bonus check for. My fellow workers and i are the ones who are doing all the work, we are the ones who are forced to deal directly with the customers and we are the ones who have to worry everyday wether or not some mananger is going to wake up on thr wrong side of the bed and we wont have our jobs anymore.
One more example them i'll let you go.
Our grocery stockers are short about 5 people and all of us overnight associates had to go throw freight when our jobs were done, but befor we were allowed to leave and instead of helping us, our store manager and our two comanagers were just standing at the end of the grocery side yelling at us to move fast cause all the time we are "wasting" we will be required to cut off at the end of the week. WHAT KIND OF CRAP IS THAT!!
Ohh, and just so you know i work at a supercenter and it is as much fun as it sounds... but of course for some reason we all just "GRIN AND BARE IT".

Anonymous said...

AMERICA IS GETTING LAZY. NOBODY FIGHT AGAINST WALMART ABUSE, NOW IS YOUR MOMENT, SAY NO!!WAKE UP! YOU HAVE TO SUPPORT YOUR FAMILY, THEN , WHY YOU FAIL THEM WHEN? YOU SIMPLY ARE THERE WORKING LIKE A HORSE FOR A MANAGEMENT THAT DO NOT SEE DE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A PERSON AND A PIECE OF WOOD. PEOPLE SAY, "WHAT WE CAN DO?", FOR EXAMPLE CREATE A NETWORK WITH MANY OTHER STORES, ORGANIZE ASSOCIATES, MAKE PLANNING. THEY ARE NOT GOING TO CLOSE ALL STORES, IF THEY SCREAM, WE CAN SCREAM LOUDER, DO NOT LET THESE SLAVERS TAKE ADVANTAGE OF YOU, HARD WORKING ASSOCIATES. THEY GET BONUSES KEEPING YOUR WAGE LOW, THEY CUT YOUR BENEFITS, SCHEDULE. I DO NOT KNOW IF YOU KNOW THAT, BUT THEY MAKE SCHEDULES WITH LESS PEOPLE SHORT ENOUGH TO AVOID PAY YOUR BONUSES (NO ASSOCICATES,NO CUSTOMER SERVICE)WHICH MEANS THAT YOU DO NOT REACH THE MINIMUM TO QUALIFY FOR BONUSES.IT SHOULD STOP NOW!!WHAT´S WRONG WITH YOU? YOU HAVE YOUR RIGHTS, FIGHT FOR THEM, FOR YOUR FAMILY, FOR YOUR COUNTRY.WALMART IS KILLING OUR BEAUTIFUL COUNTRY, THEY PEE ON OUR FLAG AND MR CEO SAYS "I AM THE LAW" (NO, YOU ARE NOT THE LAW, YOU ARE THIEF, A NEW HITLER, YOU ARE THE CAUSE OF OUR SITUATION, YOU ARE ABUSING OF YOUR "ASSOCIATES", JUST FOR MONEY. IT IS ENVERESTING.

LeahK said...

In high school I was a cashier at Kroger's, a grocery store in the south. A lot of what I'm reading on your blog I experienced at Kroger's also. Since it was the first job I ever had, I didn't feel mistreated at all. It was just a part-time job. Kroger's actually did have a union that I was persuaded to join at the orientation on my first day. They took dues out of every single paycheck, but I never saw any benefit. I was paid minimum wage...lower than the non-unionized HEB that paid about $3/hour above minimum wage. Anyways, the point I was getting at is that Wal-Mart is a grocery store. Grocery stores need to be efficient. Why in the world would all 460 store employees need to be in the break room at the same time? Who would be working the floor? Could Wal-Mart treat their employees better? Absolutely. So could a lot of businesses that hire unskilled labor. Anytime there is a situation where an employee HAS to work somewhere to support themselves, they're open to be mistreated. It's a power thing. I don't think the problems you describe are unique to Wal-Mart...it's just that Wal-Mart is the biggest retailer in existence, so that's who people blame. Have you worked at any minimum wage type jobs since Wal-Mart? I'd be interested in the contrast between the companies.

Anonymous said...

Store Manager there during overnights? What crack are you smoking lol

pat scott said...

I'VE WORKED AT WALMART FOR ALMOST 14 YEARS--People, please, you need to ,contact "OUR WALMART"--they are SOOOOOO WONDERFUL--you learn your rights, NO retaliaton can be done unto you---it's sooooooo refreshing--I LOVE IT!!! you know the happenings at Bentonville a few weeks ago/ I was there--a GREAT time was had by all..instead of complaining on a web page, CONTACT 'OUR WALMART" you'll be so thankful you did :-)dont stress, just call... glad i did...Tissa

Candie Cloer said...

I currently work at Wal-Mart. Im a cashier and Im being trained for the service desk next week. The week after, Im serving as a sales associate. I do think the corporation needs to get its act together (new buggies, more hours available for more cashiers, higher pay, etc), but as far as my store goes, I have few issues.

My management team is pretty good- even the CSMs (we dont have enough, but theyre good at their job). When I screw up, theyre patient with me and explain how to approach the situation next time. They dont isolate us from one another at my store. Our break room is a decent size and is never full. So far, management has backed me up on my decisions to not sale tobacco, alcohol, etc when I felt that I shouldnt. I can honestly say that I enjoy my job.