Do Walmart Workers Really Love Their Jobs?

by John Logan on December 10, 2012

In an opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 30, CEO of Walmart West, Michael Bender, states that, according to an internal survey conducted by management, 86% of the company¹s employees “love their jobs.” But just how reliable is Walmart¹s internal polling on employee attitudes? Walmart¹s assertions are at odds with every national survey on employee satisfaction. In 2011, the Conference Board survey of U.S. households found that only 47% of Americans are satisfied with their jobs. Yet Walmart, which has among the lowest wages and worst benefits of any large corporation in the country, supposedly has a satisfaction rate of 86%?

The results of the company¹s internal survey also conflict with what outside sources have said about how much Walmart¹s employees “love” their jobs. A Bloomberg Businessweek investigation in 2007 found Walmart employee morale was ³at rock bottom.² According to Businessweek, “many of Wal-Mart’s workers feel outright hostility toward the company, and, by extension, they often treat customers with indifference or worse.” Walmart competes almost entirely on the basis of low price, and this makes it virtually inevitable that employees are paid poverty wages and morale remains “rock bottom.” According to one employee interviewed by Businessweek: “If Wal-Mart doesn’t care for me, why should I care?”

By all accounts, employee morale at Walmart has not improved since 2007. Earlier this year, Business Insider reported that, according to employees, working at Walmart “is worse than Target and Costco.” Based on a survey of 1,800 employees conducted by Glassdoor, a web forum sharing employment-related information, the Bentonville giant came dead last when it comes to its treatment of employees. On every major indicator of employee wellbeing ­ fairness and respect, employee morale, compensation and benefits, work-life balance, career opportunities and others ­ Walmart scored significantly lower than its major competitors. Employees also criticized Walmart CEO Mike Duke, who makes more money in an hour than many of his hourly-paid associates earn in an entire year. One trainee Walmart manager explained the problem as “putting profit first and people last.”

Thus, Walmart employees might fear their managers, but they clearly do not “love their jobs.” And after last week¹s revelation that the company intends to start denying health benefits to new associates working fewer than 30 hours per week ­ and shift the cost of their coverage onto taxpayers ­ it is unlikely that morale will improve anytime soon.

Here¹s a radical suggestion: if Bender is so confident that the overwhelming majority of their associates “love” their low-wage, dead-end jobs, why not allow employees to decide for themselves on the issue of unionization, without subjecting them to aggressive and illegal management interference?

Why not call off the anti-union hit squads that are dispatched to stores across the country from Bentonville at the first indication of union activity? Why not stop the forced “captive audience meetings,” the one-on-one meetings with supervisors, and the anti-union indoctrination that starts at the very moment that employees are first hired at the company?

Why not refrain from the dozens of other aggressive anti-union tactics documented in 2007 by the respected international organization, Human Rights Watch?

Given a free and uncoerced choice, Walmart “associates” would form unions in droves. Walmart management know this, of course, and that is precisely why it is determined that they will never have that free choice.

Behind the “love” expressed by 86% of employees in Walmart¹s internal survey lies a deep fear of the company¹s authoritarian culture.

John Logan is Professor and Director of Labor and Employment Studies at San Francisco State University.

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