In a randomized, controlled experiment at Gap, researchers Joan C. Williams, Saravanan Kesavan, and Lisa McCorkell sought out the effects of more versus less predictable schedules on the productivity of retail employees and the profitability of stores. “The results,” they write at the Harvard Business Review, “were striking”:
Sales in stores with more stable scheduling increased by 7%, an impressive number in an industry in which companies work hard to achieve increases of 1–2%. Labor productivity increased by 5%, in an industry where productivity grew by only 2.5% per year between 1987 and 2014. Our estimate is that Gap earned $2.9 million as a result of more-stable scheduling during the 35 weeks the experiment was in the field. Given that out-of-pocket expenses were small ($31,200), our data suggest that return on investment was very high. (If stable scheduling were adopted enterprise-wide, transition costs might well entail the costs of upgrading or replacing existing software systems.)
Unlike the typical way of driving sales through increase in traffic, the sales increase from our intervention occurred due to higher conversion rates and basket values made possible through better service from associates.
These findings, the authors underscore, contribute to a growing body of empirical evidence that lean staffing practices, with most employees on part-time, unstable, and on-call schedules, are not the money-savers they are often believed to be. It is indeed feasible for retailers to offer their employees more stable and predictable schedules, they add, but employers often overstate the benefits of an on-call system (reduced labor costs) while ignoring its drawbacks (such as poorer customer service and more management time devoted to scheduling).
This research comes at a time when schedule predictability has emerged as a focal point of labor activism and attracted the attention of regulators. San Francisco became the first major city to mandate predictable scheduling with its “retail workers’ bill of rights” in 2014, while Seattle passed a mandate in 2016 and New York City introduced a fair scheduling law for retail and fast food employees last year. Oregon became the first state to enact such a regulation statewide last summer and other states are mulling laws of their own.
Home improvement retailer Lowe’s has announced a partnership with Guild Education to offer up-front tuition payments for employees to enroll in training programs for skilled trades such as carpentry, plumbing, and appliance repair, Amanda Eisenberg reports at Employee Benefit News. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the rate of demand for these types of services is growing faster than the supply of talent, with a gap of around 500,000 skilled tradespeople projected by 2026, Eisenberg notes.
The program, which will launch with a four-city pilot in March, will offer employees up to $2,500 to enroll in pre-apprenticeships for those crafts. During that period, ranging from six to ten months, they will have access to a field mentor; afterward, they will have the opportunity to be placed in full-time paid apprenticeships within Lowes’ nationwide contractor network. The company’s Chief HR Officer Jennifer Weber told Eisenberg more about the program, which is called Track to the Trades:
“The trade profession is a high-demand, high-opportunity field for the next generation workforce, and today, there is a massive unmet need,” She said. … “With Track to the Trades, we are providing unique career alternatives for our associates while also building a pipeline for the next generation of skilled trade workers.”
Springtime is always a busy season for home improvement and gardening businesses, so the largest of these businesses in the US are embarking on massive hiring sprees to fill tens of thousands of seasonal positions, some of which will turn into permanent roles. The Home Depot, the largest home improvement retailer in the US, plans to hire 80,000 employees for the coming season, while its main competitor Lowe’s is looking for 53,000 workers.
To assist in this massive recruiting drive in the context of a historically tight labor market, Home Depot is launching a series of new technological tools to help it recruit and onboard tens of thousands of new employees as efficiently as possible. In a press release last week, the company described an app that allows candidates who have submitted applications to self-schedule their in-person interviews at their convenience. The press release adds that 80 percent of candidates have used Candidate Self-Service since Home Depot began piloting the app in November:
Candidate Self-Service is the latest in a series of enhancements The Home Depot has made to its application process. Last spring, the company saw a 50 percent increase in candidates after rolling out its 15-minute application, Mobile Apply and Text-to-Apply capabilities.
Last October, Walmart announced that it was rolling out shelf-scanning robots at 50 stores throughout the US after piloting them at a smaller number of locations in Arkansas, Pennsylvania, and California. The robots are taking over some of the menial busywork that used to occupy employees on the store floor: checking shelves for out-of-stock items, incorrect prices, and wrong or missing labels.
At the MIT Technology Review, Erin Winick recently talked to Martin Hitch, chief business officer at Bossa Nova, the San Francisco-based robotics firm that created the machines, about how employees and customers were reacting to them. While you might expect employees to resent having their work automated or fear that the robots would put them out of a job, Hitch said employees “instantly become the advocates for the robot”:
One way they do that is by giving it a name—the robots all have Walmart name badges on. The employees have competitions to see what the right name is for each robot. They also advocate for the robot to the general public. It’s the store staff saying, “It’s helping me.” We see them now defending the robot.
The British supermarket chain Tesco is facing a massive pay discrimination claim from its mostly female shop floor workers, asserting that they should receive wages equal to those of the mostly male employees who perform similar work at the company’s distribution centers. The law firm Leigh Day is taking legal action on behalf of around 100 shop assistants, but the class action could affect as many as 200,000 workers, the Guardian reports:
Tesco warehouse staff earn from about £8.50 an hour up to more than £11 an hour while store staff earn about £8 an hour in basic pay, according to the claim. The disparity could mean a full-time distribution worker earning over £5,000 a year more than store-based staff.
The case follows similar actions against Asda and Sainsbury’s which are working their way through the employment tribunal process. Nearly 20,000 people are involved in the Asda case, where the latest ruling backed the shopworkers’ right to compare their jobs to employees – mainly men – working in distribution centres. Asda is due to appeal against that ruling at the court of appeal in October. About 1,000 workers are involved in the Sainsbury’s action.
An employment tribunal ruling against Tesco could cost the company as much as £4 billion, or £20,000 in back pay per employee. Leigh Day intends to argue that the pay discrepancy reflects implicit discrimination against store workers and other jobs traditionally held by women. The case will hinge on the question of whether the warehouse employees’ work is in fact more valuable to the company than that of the shop workers, one economist tells CNN Money:
The major home improvement and appliance retail chain Lowe’s announced in a press release last Thursday that it was introducing a paid parental leave benefit for full-time employees, both salaried and hourly, as well as expanding eligibility for its health insurance plan:
In addition to the company’s comprehensive benefits program, eligible full-time hourly and salaried U.S. employees will qualify to receive:
- Ten weeks of paid maternity leave and two weeks of paid parental leave.
- An adoption assistance benefit to cover up to $5,000 of expenses related to agency, legal and other fees.
- Eligibility to enroll in health benefits sooner, as early as the first of the month following 30 days of service.
Lowe’s also announced one-time cash bonuses of up to $1,000 for its more than 260,000 hourly employees, as some other large US employers have done in response to the substantial cut in the corporate tax rate passed by Congress in December.
The chain’s new leave policy, which goes into effect May 1, means that the 20 largest private employers in the US now offer some form of paid parental leave benefit, the New York Times‘ Claire Cain Miller observes:
H&M, the Swedish fast-fashion retailer, suffered a major public relations crisis last week when an advertisement depicting a black child modeling a sweatshirt with the slogan “coolest monkey in the jungle” set off a wave of violent protests at its stores in South Africa. The company quickly apologized and removed the ad from all its marketing, but the fallout has not ended: Musicians The Weeknd and G-Eazy have canceled partnerships with the company, activists have called for a global boycott, and the five-year-old model, Liam Mango, and his family have reportedly moved out of their home in Stockholm over “security concerns” after his mother was harshly criticized for defending the company over the controversy.
As part of its damage-control efforts, H&M announced on Wednesday that it had hired its first global head of diversity, the Associated Press reported:
In an email to The Associated Press on Wednesday, the retailer said Global Manager for Employee Relations Annie Wu, a company veteran, would be the new global leader for diversity and inclusiveness. The retailer said on Facebook that it’s “commitment to addressing diversity and inclusiveness is genuine, therefore we have appointed a global leader, in this area, to drive our work forward.”
At Quartz, Lynsey Chutel explains why the ad touched such a nerve in South Africa, and what other global brands can learn from this controversy: