The people in Bentonville, Arkansas always have enough time on their hands to figure out how to make their workers even more miserable. Today's Wall Street Journal has a front-page article that reports on the Beast's plan to use computers to figure out when to schedule workers, even if that means workers can never count on knowing what their schedule will be from week to week.
Wal-Mart Seeks New Flexibility In Worker Shifts
By KRIS MAHER
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.
The change is made possible by a software system that can crunch an array of data, part of a shift toward computerized management tools that can help pare costs and boost companies' bottom lines. But it also could demand greater flexibility and availability from workers in place of reliable work shifts -- and predictable paychecks.
Wal-Mart began implementing the new system for some workers, including cashiers and accounting-office personnel, last year. As the world's largest retailer, the Bentonville, Ark., company often sets the standard for others, and many chains already are heading in the same direction.
The way this whole system works is so 1984 or "Modern Times" or whatever ugly term you can think to give it:
A company using these fine-tuned programs might start the day with a few employees on hand at many stores, bring in a bunch more during busy midday hours, and gradually pare down through the day before bulking up for the evening rush.
Staffing is the latest arena in which companies are trying to wring costs and attain new efficiencies. The latest so-called scheduling-optimization systems can integrate data ranging from the number of in-store customers at certain hours to the average time it takes to sell a television or unload a truck, and help predict how many workers will be needed at any given hour.
And here's where it hits the workers:
But while the new systems are expected to benefit both retailers and customers, some experts say they can saddle workers with unpredictable schedules. In some cases, they may be asked to be "on call" to meet customer surges, or sent home because of a lull, resulting in less pay. The new systems also alert managers when a worker is approaching full-time status or overtime, which would require higher wages and benefits, so they can scale back that person's schedule.
That means workers may not know when or if they will need a babysitter or whether they will work enough hours to pay that month's bills. Rather than work three eight-hour days, someone might now be plugged into six four-hour days, mornings one week and evenings the next.
Some analysts say the new systems will result in more irregular part-time work. "The whole point is workers were a fixed cost, now they're a variable cost. Is it good for workers? Probably not," says Kenneth Dalto, a management consultant in Farmington Hills, Mich.
Yeah, I'd say it's not good. Check this out:
Some workers say the form has been used to pressure them to be open to more shifts. Tami Orth, a full-time cashier in Ludington, Mich., says she used to work a regular schedule of nearly 35 hours a week, with Mondays and Wednesdays off. In May, managers began to assign her as few as 12 hours a week, and her shifts began to fluctuate. "You can't budget anything," says Ms. Orth, who earns $9.32 an hour.
Some longtime workers also say they believe managers use the system to pressure them to quit. After working 16 years at a Wal-Mart in Hastings, Minn., Karen Nelson says managers told her she had to be open to working nights and weekends. After she refused, her hours were trimmed, though they have been restored in recent months. "The store manager said he could get two people for what he pays me," says Ms. Nelson, who earns about $14.50 an hour.
Welcome to the next wrinkle in the "free market" wonders of our economy.