Walmart (NYSE:WMT) has announced that it is expanding—to chainwide—an experiment to let associates more easily see work opportunities in other departments at their store, as a way to supplement their pay. "For example, a bakery or deli associate can now request to work an available shift in electronics or the lawn and garden area and vice versa," the Walmart statement said, adding that "this program is showing value beyond filling available shifts. It's providing associates the opportunity to help build their careers by learning about different departments, which helps strengthen our stores and benefit associates and our customers."
The trial has been running in Denver, Colo., and Fort Smith, Ark., since February. The program is now slated to move to an unspecified number of additional stores in July before rolling out to the entire more-than-4,000-store chain by Halloween. That end-of-October timing is hardly an accident, given that early November is the start of the holiday insanity, a period when Walmart needs to bring in a huge number of additional seasonal workers. It's the time of year with the greatest number of official holidays, plus requests for days off.
Still, even given that huge incentive, that is an impressively rapid rollout for the world's largest retailer.
The program also gave Walmart a good chance to play with how best to interact with associates, an increasingly large number of whom now bring to work their own smartphones. "One of the benefits of the pilot is learning how we can better support our associates. Through their feedback, we have a better understanding of how they want to receive scheduling information," the statement said. "As a result, we are testing an online version where associates can use their computers or smartphones to view and request to work available shifts in their store."
Walmart said the idea of encouraging associates to work additional shifts is for three reasons. Beyond trying to boost workers' pay ("to pick up an extra shift that works with their schedule to earn extra money"), Walmart said it was also trying to help part-time associates transition to possible full-time roles. It's also viewed as practical training, as a way to "learn about different areas of the store to help advance their career."
There's also the pragmatic side. Any efforts to squeeze more hours out of the existing workforce will reduce hours needed from seasonal associates, who need much more training, hand-holding and who—reasonably enough—make more mistakes. Done right, it could be the proverbial win-win. Workers, who are complaining about not making enough money, can get more money. And corporate can reduce its reliance on seasonal temporary staff at almost no additional cost.