Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Remember the idea of giving workers flexitime? Making it easier to cope with family obligations without necessarily reducing productivity at all?

Well, now flexitime has quite a new definition; one which turns it upside down and makes family obligations harder to combine with work:

Wal-Mart is moving towards widespread implementation of new employee scheduling software. Sounds innocent enough -- the software tracks customer habits over seven week periods, and reschedules workers for each one. Moreover, it also creates a range of daily possibilities, allowing Wal-Mart to schedule workers to be on-call during surges, or send them home during lulls, or implement a variety of other strategies to create a more flexible, adaptive, workforce. All sounds routine enough, right?

But pity the workforce. The new software will make advance scheduling and reliable paychecks a thing of the past. According to The Journal, "experts say [the program] can saddle workers with unpredictable schedules. In some cases, they may be asked to be "on call" to meet customer surges, or sent home because of a lull, resulting in less pay. The new systems also alert managers when a worker is approaching full-time status or overtime, which would require higher wages and benefits, so they can scale back that person's schedule...That means workers may not know when or if they will need a babysitter or whether they will work enough hours to pay that month's bills. Rather than work three eight-hour days, someone might now be plugged into six four-hour days, mornings one week and evenings the next."

Neat. Unpredictable work schedules are exactly what Wal-Mart workers need.