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Wal-Mart Tests Computerized Scheduling System

A walmart store with cars parked in front of it.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. recently introduced a new electronic employee-scheduling system at its more than 650 U.S. grocery stores, a move the retailer says is meant to give employees more consistency and transparency in arranging their shifts while better serving customers during busy times.

The nation's largest retailer rolled out the new system, Customer First Scheduling, in late July to test what works well and what can be improved before potentially introducing it in its supercenters nationwide. The program is part of Wal-Mart's $2.7 billion, two-year investment, launched last year, to provide store associates with more scheduling choices, pay and training.

According to a 2015 study by Montreal-based employee relationship management company WorkJam, 56 percent of hourly employees who work variable shifts rarely receive their schedules more than a week in advance, and 29 percent rarely receive consistent work schedules, according to a news release. The study report, An Inside Look at the Hiring and Scheduling Crisis in the Hourly Workforce, also reveals that 26 percent of hourly workers had quit their previous job because of an inconsistent schedule.

The study also found:

  • 57 percent of companies rely on manual processes when scheduling employees.
  • 68 percent communicate schedules by posting charts in break rooms or communal spaces.
  • 43 percent of employees communicate their availability through written requests.
  • 31 percent tell their shift manager over the phone or in person.
  • 11 percent tell their shift manager over e-mail.

"The needs of customers are changing, and so are the needs of associates, who want more control and ownership of their schedule and better visibility into available hours," Wal-Mart spokesman Kory Lundberg told SHRM Online via e-mail.

The company's new scheduling program "is designed to get the right people in the right place at the right time to better serve customers [and] … is based on each store's specific needs," Lundberg said.

Wal-Mart reallocates work hours to specific times and departments based on periods of higher customer traffic. More hours also are available when the store needs to complete work to prepare for those busy stretches.

The scheduling program aims to offer employees consistency with fixed shifts, transparency into available unfilled shifts, and a move toward "true availability," according to Lundberg. Some associates have a fixed schedule, enabling them to work the same hours on the same days for up to six months, he said, which means a more predictable schedule and paycheck.

Employee Schedule Consistency

Associates without a fixed shift will tell their manager what hours they are "truly and consistently available to work each week" by entering the information into a computer at the store or from the employee's home computer -- the company is building an app as well -- and will be scheduled to work only during those times, Lundberg said. The new system will enable employees to see all the unfilled shifts in their store and sign up for hours on a first-come, first-served basis.

The week of Aug. 7 was the first week that some employees worked schedules generated by the new system, which was developed by workforce and supply chain management technology company JDA Software's RedPrairie, based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

The Organization United for Respect at Walmart, also known as OUR Walmart, which advocates for the retailer's low-income workers and their communities, said the new system makes improvements but doesn't go far enough.

 "The policy takes some important steps [to] address the crisis of unstable scheduling and understaffing," the group said in an Aug. 4 statement but pointed out that the new scheduling system appears not to fully address the issues or to follow through on Wal-Mart's public commitment in February 2016 "to provide fixed shifts with consistent hours at 4,600 stores by the end of the year."

The statement continued: "By adding fixed shifts and prioritizing peak hours, the policy makes some improvements." However, "without detailing the percentage of the workforce who will have access to fixed shifts, ensuring that those with scheduling restrictions are eligible for full-time hours and adding hours to the stores, it is unclear if [the new scheduling system] truly addresses the need for consistent, full-time schedules."

The group said it looks like the retailer is moving workers' schedules around rather than adding hours to meet employees' need for more hours or to meet individual stores' needs for adequate staffing. OUR Walmart seeks full-time schedules for all employees who want them and a minimum $15-an-hour wage for store associates.


Dinah Wisenberg Brin, a former Associated Press and Dow Jones Newswires staff reporter, is a freelance journalist and writer based in Philadelphia.


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