WalMart – Industrial Peace?

In true Borat fasion –

WalMart employees are clearly the happiness employees on the planet……NOT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

It is more than clear through the picture painted by Barbara Ehrenreich that WalMart employees probably don’t top the charts in employee satisfaction.  They seemed miserable with their wages, mindless tasks, and especially their incompetent managers, like our friend Howard.  If you think that you were surprised at the unhappiness of the WalMart workers in “Nickel and Dimed”, imagine the shock that Frederick Taylor would have felt.

Frederick W. Taylor is the father  of scientific management.  Taylor insisted that you could scientifically analyze all tasks being done in an organization and figure out better or different ways to accomplish those tasks in an effort to realize maximum efficiency.  You could also analyse the skills and talents of an organization’s employees and assign them each to specific tasks according to those talents – again in an effort to maximize efficiency.  Once workeres were all working at maximum efficiency, an era of industrial peace would come over the organization as workers working at maximum efficiency and producing maximum profits would ‘surely’ be paid top wages by their employers.  Now, while WalMart may not be the ‘perfect’ example of this theory, as they surely don’t scientifically analyze their employees talents and assign them to jobs according, but they have certainly simplified job functions enough to allow employees to specialize at a very specific job, that they would then be able to complete extremely efficiently.

Yet, something seems to have gone seriously wrong.  It’s true that the more Barbara worked the more efficiently and quickly she could put away clothes, but as time went on she seemed to become more and more dissatisfied with her job.  Much of Barbara’s, and her fellow employee’s, dissastisfaction seemed to have come from extremely low wages they were getting paid.  If you buy into Taylor’s theory, then the WalMart employees who are certainly working efficiently on their mindless tasks should be making a hefty sum of money in reward for their expertise.  That is absolutely not the case.

Just to put things in perspective…..For the sake of this example let’s say you are a single mother with one child working 40 hours/week at WalMart making minimum wage ($7.25 in PA as of July 2009).  According to the living wage calculator (Living Wage Calculator) in Union County, Pennsylvania (the country Lewisburg is in if you didn’t know) a living wage for one adult and one child is $13.87 – significantly higher than minimum wage.

Now, it’s clear that Taylor’s theory sure isn’t holding true – but why?  My answer – good business sense.  If WalMart can be one of the most profitable and largest corporations in the United States without paying their employees a living wage AND maintaining the amount of employees they need to operate, why on Earth would they pay them any more?  True these workers are working at maximum efficiency and helping to bring in profits for mother WalMart, but WalMart really has n0 incentive to raise salaries.  What can be done about this? You tell me…..

5 Responses

  1. Although it may be difficult to live on wages from Wal-Mart people will be willing to work for anything when desparate. As long as the unemployment rate is so high and Wal-Mart is offering jobs I think it will be difficult to get Wal-Mart to raise salaries. It would take a lot of employees to come together and make a stand and without unions this would be very difficult.

  2. It is simply a fact that Wal-Mart will always have ample employees. If current employees at Wal-Mart become dissatisfied with their rate of pay, they can quit, and I can guarantee Wal-Mart will have little or no problem filling their shoes. There is always someone out there (often times immigrants) who will accept the low rate, especially since Wal-Mart jobs can be a lot “cushier” than other jobs that require intense manual labor. I agree with a lot of the points that Josh mentioned above, but I also think it is important to look further at Taylor’s idea of scientific management. Yes specialization of the work force can lead to increased efficiency, but like the law of diminishing returns, there comes a point where there is too much specialization, and thus efficiency falls. If we think about it another way, say you have two workers and five different machines. These two workers have to work extremely hard to ensure that a substantial amount of product is produced. If the manager were to hire more employees and assign each a specialized job at each machine, his efficiency would increase greatly. However, what happens if he goes too far and hires a 6th or 7th worker? This could lead to excess amounts of people on the work floor, and could in fact cause production to slow.

    Although Wal-Mart’s problem isn’t necessarily too many workers, I think it over-specializes, leaving workers in seemingly monotonous tasks. Wal-Mart needs to provide their employees with different jobs, switch positions around, and commend workers who excel at their job. Wal-Mart is just one of many institutions that could make some altering changes to their organizational structure.

  3. Maybe add link to Borat so we know what you mean?

  4. Also,
    “why on Earth would they pay them any more.”
    needs a question mark.

  5. Just to add fuel to your Taylor would not like Wal-Mart argument: if the minimum wage had been pegged to inflation it would be close to $19 today! And Wal-Mart actually pays better than minimum wage.

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