Unpredictable workweeks are among the biggest sources of frustration for retail employees, and Walmart is hoping a new initiative to stabilize scheduling will put it ahead of its competition in terms of attracting new workers and retaining existing ones.
The retail giant, which employs more than 1 million people in its U.S. stores alone, is implementing a new system that will allow some workers to keep a fixed schedule for at least 13 weeks and will give managers more accurate projections of how many staff members will be needed at any given time.
The rollout to all 4,600 U.S. locations comes after several years of testing at its Neighborhood Market stores, and its timing just as the busy holiday shopping season hits suggests that Walmart, like many of the country’s biggest retailers, is trying to get a leg up on the competition amid a tight labor market, record-high job openings and an unemployment rate of 3.7 percent, the lowest level since 1969.
While some have responded by raising their minimum wage — Amazon announced a new $15-per-hour threshold last month, while Target upped its minimum pay to $12, with plans to hit $15 by 2020 — and others are adding perks like increased employee discounts (Kohl’s) and paid time off for part-timers (J.C. Penney), Walmart is reaching into its arsenal of tools to keep labor costs down while increasing worker satisfaction. (The company also raised its starting wage from $9 to $11 in January following the Trump administration tax cuts.)
Under the new system, employees will manage their schedule via a dedicated app that will offer the potential to pick up extra shifts when available, swap shifts with other employees without needing manager approval and set a consistent schedule that doesn’t vary from week to week.
The latter addresses a persistent complaint in the industry that variable scheduling makes it difficult to manage finances and plan for things like childcare and doctor’s appointments. And though it’s shorter than the goal of six months’ notice the company previously set for 2016, the 13-week set period is longer than many competitors offer.