the Wal-Mart affect

It is hard to be genuine in a Wal-Mart training session and not feel like something of an idiot.

To be fair, I don’t believe this effect is exclusive to Wal-Mart.  Job training sessions, in general, are in danger of producing a serious degression in one’s perception of oneself as an evolved and realized being.  In training a new employee, it is important not to make too many assumptions about the knowledge base that employee brings to their new task.  It is important to be thorough and clear and provide them with all of the tools necessary for the successful performance of their task.

However, as the world’s largest private employer, Wal-Mart has to cater their training sessions to a very broad cross-section of the labor market.  It should also be pointed out, Wal-Mart has something like a 70% annual turnover rate.  That means a whole lot of people–of all sizes, shapes, and intellects–receive the Wal-Mart training treatment.

The session began with an ice-breaker type of activity.  A large gameboard was laid out on the table in front of us.  We were each assigned a game piece and we rolled dice to progress through a shopping experience at the Bricabrac Store.  Either the patent on the game of Life has expired, or Wal-Mart owes someone a royalty.  At the end of the game, we added up the price of the items remaining on our ‘shopping list’.  We then multiplied our final ‘Customer Satisfaction Number’ by 10–or “add a zero to the end of it” our trainer offered.  Then add that number to your total shopping list cost, and whoever has the highest number wins.  The items on our shopping list ranged from $1 to $6 and we all had very nearly the same list; the Customer Satisfaction numbers ranged from 1 to 30; so the outcome of the game is weighted very heavily toward your Customer Satisfaction number.    But it’s not like our trainer was checking our work, so the exercise of adding up our shopping list did not seem to be a test.  I suspect that our trainer made up the method for determining the winner, or only partially remembered it.  Regardless, I was the winner.  I didn’t get anything, so maybe it doesn’t matter. 

Our trainer asked us questions about our in-game shopping experience and pointed out the lessons to be learned from it.  He gathered up the gameboard and laid out a large, cartoonish illustration of Wal-Mart “and the community” in its place.  We were then given a set of cards to pass around and read aloud containing questions and explanations related to the illustration.  As he had been doing during the game session, our trainer got back to work tapping away at his computer.   By this device, we learned about such Wal-Mart cornerstones as the ’10 Foot Rule’ (if you’re within 10 feet of a customer, make eye contact and ask if you can help them) and the ‘Sundown Rule’ (if a customer has a question or request, provide some kind of answer by the end of the day).  And we puzzled over such contextless details as the grey-haired, business-suited gentleman riding a donkey and wearing a woman’s hat, and the lone, faceless man standing just outside the Wal-Mart entry with the bewildered text bubble, “Yo Hablo Espanol”.

Other highlights of the evening included:

 – A video that very carefully explained why unions “aren’t right for Wal-Mart”.  This same video somehow worked in a clip from Fox News (I kid you not) about Wal-Mart’s Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.  I suspect other coverage of these efforts was available to be used but Fox was probably the only station willing to give Wal-Mart its absolute admiration for a full 45 seconds or so.  It read like a press release direct from corporate–but the anchor’s introduction, little Fox News icon and scrolling info bar at the bottom let us know that it was, in fact, an outside news source.

– Our trainer’s claim that lunch breaks are “legally required” if you work over six hours.  As I struggled to reconcile his suggestion that this was a matter of law with all my prior work experience, he became emphatic:

 “If you’re going to work one minute over six hours, you need to take a 30 minute lunch.  You should go ahead and take one if you’re scheduled for a six hour shift because you might be walking through the store, back to the timeclock, and a customer will stop and ask you something, and you get back there and you’re a few minutes over.  If you’re a cashier, at six hours, your machine will give you a warning that you need to take a lunch break.  If you’re still checking a half hour after that, your machine will automatically shut down.”

Clearly, they take this lunch break thing pretty seriously.

I continued to dwell on his suggestion that this was a labor law issue but didn’t challenge him because it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s labor law or company policy.  If it’s just something they require you to do, as a condition of working for them, then you have to do it.  I don’t believe there is any labor law requiring them not to require lunch breaks either.

He may have just slipped when he suggested it was a legal issue.  Nonetheless, during our break, I pulled out the iPhone and doublechecked Missouri labor law.  I was not surprised to find that lunch breaks are not required even for eight hour shifts.  I was a little surprised to find that breaks are not even required in our state.  Breaks, theoretically, have been built into every job I’ve ever had.  Wal-Mart is no different in this respect, although I suspect it has more to do with company-wide conformity to labor laws that are in place in other states, than it has to do with benevolence toward their Missouri employees.

I don’t like prolonging my workday by clocking out for a lunch break, so this is something that doesn’t jibe well with me.  It occurs to me, upon further reflection, that he did not suggest that not taking a lunch break was a “coachable” offense–“coaching” is what they call their disciplinary system.  He was careful to point out offenses that were “coachable” throughout the training session.  So I think I’ll ask for further clarification on this whole lunch thing and its “coachability” in our next training session tomorrow night.  I’m not sure if he, personally, feels that he is doing us a favor by advocating so strongly for a lunch break, or what.  The cash register shutdown trick suggests that the company strongly encourages it, but on the other hand, they don’t include the lunch break time in the schedule they give you.  My eight hour days say 7am-3pm, not 7am-3:30pm.  Like our Bricabrac gaming experience, this lunch break thing isn’t really making sense, and I’m not sure if it’s Wal-Mart’s design or human error on the part of our trainer.

I think I’ll have to deduct three Employee Satisfaction points if it turns out that I do have to take lunch breaks.

postscript:  I’ve signed up to take my GRE on January 2nd.  I tried out the sample questions for the two new question types on the GRE’s website yesterday.  I aced the text completion part without any trouble, but I was only able to come up with an answer for two of the four quantitative reasoning questions.  Clearly, I need a refresher on my math skills.  I opted for the Princeton Review’s study guide and I’ll start studying in earnest this afternoon.  Wish me luck.

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3 Responses to “the Wal-Mart affect”

  1. Erin Says:

    Well D here’s the shizz on walmart. They got sued in 05 for disallowing meal breaks for employees -and lost big time. Now they are facing the same lawsuit in Minnesota this year, probably with the same outcome. I am assuming they took the most conservative states law and have applied it company-wide so you are probably SOL if you ask to not take a meal brreak. We had a similar rule when I worked there but it only applied to workers under 18 which affected me. Then when I worked at JCP in college, I didn’t have to deal with any such rule because we live in this great “work as long as you want without a break” state. Good luck and God speed!

  2. Kelly Says:

    Aw Derrick, my witty witty friend, I doff my hat to your humility.

  3. Kady Says:

    I am happy you got a job and survived the training period. I can imagine it must have been a bit annoying. I’ve always found training sessions to be a bit obnoxious! 🙂

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