Senior Director, Associate Experience, Walmart, Inc.
What does job quality mean to you, and why is it important?
How I define job quality today differs from how I would have defined it when I entered the workforce, or even when I joined Walmart as an hourly associate almost 13 years ago. My personal view is that employees have a tendency to set the bar too low. Job quality should mean something more than minimum wage and safety standards. As employees, we should want more. As a society, we should expect more.
Job quality means that people have an opportunity to feel secure in their jobs and valued in the work that they do. It means they have a sense of belonging and have opportunities to do more and be more should they choose to take that path. That’s one of the reasons I’m proud to work for Walmart; we aim to lead in this space.
What is your role at Walmart, and how does it address job quality?
I have the privilege of leading a small but mighty team responsible for developing and deploying flexible scheduling options for our frontline, hourly associates at Walmart. This work is part of Walmart’s Associate Opportunity initiative, a $2.7 billion investment to improve the associate experience that includes increases in education, training, and wages.
We firmly believe both stability and mobility are required for a fulfilling career experience. We also believe that, as the nation’s largest employer, Walmart is uniquely situated to improve the employment experience and increase economic mobility for many American workers. Since our CEO Doug McMillon announced the Associate Opportunity initiative in 2015, we’ve introduced several changes to how we approach jobs. For instance, in 2015, we increased starting pay for 1.2 million associates in stores around the country and promoted 200,000 associates. In February of this year, we introduced yet another increase in our starting wage rate. We’ve also introduced programs to make it easier and faster for associates to advance within the organization, including local academies that prepare associates to take on increased responsibility as store supervisors or managers.
In 2015, my team began piloting a new scheduling format to provide associates with more consistency, flexibility, and control over their schedules. We know that a good schedule means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For a working parent, a good schedule might mean fixed hours that provide consistency and predictability to plan childcare. For a full-time student with a changing class schedule, it might include the option to build a new schedule each week or to work in multiple stores. Whatever it looks like for each associate, we hope that the flexible scheduling options we’re implementing translate to stability and a positive associate experience. When our associates have more stability at work, they have a greater ability to address demands outside of work and pursue training and education opportunities needed for upward mobility. A positive associate experience also improves our customer experience and sales.
This year, we will expand new scheduling technology in our Supercenters to reach a greater number of associates across our stores. We also aim to broaden our capabilities to include new scheduling options based on associates’ needs. For instance, we’re currently testing technology that allows associates to swap shifts, and early next year, we’ll be trying out technology that would enable associates to pick up shifts in multiple stores.
So far, what impact have you seen from this work?
I’m in our stores regularly, working to understand our associates’ needs and to assess the impact of the programs we’re deploying. I’ve seen associates who came to Walmart with an immediate need for a job but without long-term plans to remain in the organization. What they found was a great working environment, a job that made them feel proud and valued, and opportunity for growth. They may have started as a cashier to meet that immediate need, and now they are working toward becoming a supervisor.
In the stores where we have piloted the scheduling initiative, there have been early indicators that we are making a difference. We have associates who are telling us that, with a consistent schedule, it is much easier to plan their lives outside of work and to manage their finances based on a predictable schedule. I have also encountered associates who have told us how the new scheduling format has improved their working environment and relationships with fellow associates. I recently spoke to a group of deli associates who described how they have a better sense of who is opening their department on a consistent basis, as well as to whom they are handing off their work when they finish their shifts. As a result, they feel a deep responsibility to ensure they are doing their fair share. So there’s the improvement in the working relationship, and improvement in productivity for the business.
In short, it takes a long time to build a foundation for these programs and to see them truly take hold, but we believe we are moving in the right direction.
How do better jobs help the business?
Job quality benefits us as an employer just as much as it does associates and their families. One of the benefits to us as an employer is reduced absenteeism. Another is reduced turnover, because turnover is a business cost. If you don’t have an associate available to take care of a customer, to fill an order a customer placed online, or to keep items on the shelf that a customer wants to buy, then ultimately there are missed sales opportunities. We believe a more engaged, productive workforce improves our customers’ experience and creates better business outcomes.
What do you hope to learn and achieve through the Job Quality Fellowship?
The Fellows are coming from very different places — including business, philanthropy, and labor organizing. We are all aiming to solve the same problem through different channels and in different ways, but on a like-minded mission. My goal is to connect with others who are focused on the issue of job quality in America to drive positive change for frontline workers across our industry.
Likewise, I hope that my own experience and perspective working at Walmart will help other Fellows better understand both the challenges and potential we have as the world’s largest retailer. Job quality is an area of great interest for Walmart and one where we have been a leader in some ways. At the same time, we know that we can do more and move more quickly. Participation in the Fellowship will help us advance as we uncover best practices and learn from others who share our passion for supporting workers and communities.
We are grateful to the Ford Foundation and The Prudential Foundation for their support of this work.