According to a confidential Wal-Mart training memo for managers, the giant retailer instructs store managers to decrease the hours of its workers if sales projections early in the week do not match company benchmarks for that store. A news story in today’s Sarasota Herald Tribune illustrated the impact of this policy on workers, without mentioning the confidential memo. In the Herald Tribune story, Wal-Mart officials admitted that “the home office provides the computer pattern modules based off sales experience,” leaving managers to fill out a work schedule based on those targets. What the Wal-Mart policy actually says is this: “Periodically, payroll adjustments must be made during the week due to sales fluctuations. If weekly sales are coming in higher or lower than the anticipated sales forecast, then management should use the “midweek payroll adjustment” screen to determine the number of hours that must be decreased in order to come in at the targeted payroll percentage.” The news story said that workers in several southwest Florida stores were shaken up by the policy, because some workers were losing hours, and dropping from full-time to part-time status, with loss of any benefits. According to the Herald Tribune, “some employees at local stores said they were told in individual meetings with management recently that their work hours would change in accordance with the needs that the computer spit out.” One worker said it was like having a “bombshell dropped on us.” The newspaper reported learning of “scores of workers walking out of stores in Bradenton and Brandon” Florida. A Wal-Mart official explained the payroll policy as, “From a corporate perspective, we want people there when the customers are shopping.” And if they are not shopping, hours get reduced. One worker in the story saw his hours plummet from 40 hours to 22. “I came in on my day off. They told me to clock in and sit down,” he said. When he learned of his new part-time schedule, he quit. Another worker with children, was angered by the her new evening schedule — a time hard to cover with day care. “Wal-Mart’s supposed to be a family-oriented place and it’s not,” the female associate said. The company described this payroll adjustment process as just a “mismatch” between the times that an employee wants to work and the times when the company needs to staff the store.
This mid-week payroll adjustment policy means that hourly workers cannot count on a steady number of minimum hours per week. It also means that any reference to hourly wages is not the basis for calculating a worker’s actual annual salary. Many Wal-Mart workers may be earning less than it appears, because they are working less than the 40 or 34 or 28 hours they are believed to work. These payroll targets are performance targets set by the home office in Bentonville, and just as you would turn down a thermostat if a store got too hot, so Wal-Mart turns down its hours when its sales get too cold. No wonder 50% of Wal-Mart workers reportedly leave each year. For related stories, search by “schedule.”