Friday, January 21, 2005

Who I work for, they've got issues.

Sometimes I like to start my posts off with a confession. I don't know why, it's just fun (and informative). So here I go.

I am a magazine geek. I have subscriptions to maybe seven or eight periodicals, some which come once a week. One of those magazines is Fortune, which I don't even pay for. I'd never even peeked inside an issue of Fortune before my free subscription, but hey, it was free, so what was I supposed to do?

It's actually pretty good, if you're into business. And because I'm into quite literally everything, I'm into business. The January 24 issue was especially fun, with a cover story on the 100 Best Companies to Work For. Thirty-seven were "large companies," with over 10,000 U.S. employees. My employer, good old Wal-Mart, was noticeably left off. (Yes, Virginia, I work for Wal-Mart.) Which might have been part of the reason they decided to take out a full page ad in over 100 daily newspapers across the country last week, defending their treatment of Wal-Mart Associates (aka, employees).

Frankly, Wal-Mart doesn't do as much as other retailers do for their employees. Hourly pay is lower compared to Target, Sears, etc., the health coverage they provide is unaffordable for some of their hourly associates, and the turnover for hourly employees is higher than it should be (at least in my particular store). This newest PR plank is the latest in a massive campaign that includes underwriting programming on NPR and airing those feel-good television commercials that try to convince you Wal-Mart is your home away from home. There's only one problem: it's mostly just PR wind.

Until Wal-Mart decides to change its culture -- until it decides to raise prices just so much so that she can pay her employees a decent wage and take care of them when they get sick -- all the PR in the world isn't going to make a dent of difference. As long as it churns out poorly trained, poorly payed associates; as long as it can't provide adequate and modestly-priced health coverage; as long as it pays little attention to the high turnover rate in some stores among hourly associates, there will be literally thousands of disgruntled current/former employees who will deflate the wind from under their marketing sales. As much as we live in a quasi-Orwellian, 1984 world these days, not even the most intensive ad campaign can overcome the honesty of the people who work for or have worked for Wal-Mart stores.

Until we change our culture, and begin to put both the customer and the employee on equal footing, we can find better things to do with our money than buy full page ads in 100 newspapers. In fact, if we'd only take a look at some of the things that got certain companies on Fortune's 100 Best Companies to Work For, we could begin to get a few ideas.

1) The coffee giant Starbucks offers part-time employees and their same- or opposite-sex partners comprehensive health coverage. That's part-time employees.

2) General Mills encourages her employees to go to school. They reimburse tuition costs at 100% up to $6,000 per year. And if employees leave after they graduate, they don't have to pay back a thing.

3) MBNA, a credit-card issuer, gives a paid week off to new grandparents. Mention that to the greeter next time you walk into Wal-Mart.

4) Adoptive parents at CDW (an electronics company) can receive up to $3,000 to help with the fees that come when adopting a child.

5) Wegmans Food Markets, a grocery chain in the North-East U.S., was rated as the number one best company to work for. Mostly due to their motto, "Employees first, customers second." And they back it up with more than words. The family-owned chain figures that when employees are happy, customer service is a piece of cake. Not a bad idea. That other family-owned giant I happen to work for ought to take note.

Now aren't you proud I didn't say a word about how we're at war in Iraq and Afghanistan but still managed to have a $40 million party back home in Washington D.C.? Not to mention the uncalculated cost for the largest post-9/11 security operation in the United States, which will come straight from the pockets of your average tax-paying citizen? (Sure, Bush has every reason to celebrate, but in light of recent events in Iraq and the Indian Ocean does he have to party like it's 1999?)

Dang it. I was so close....

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