Yesterday I read this article: At Wal-Mart, Lessons in Self-Help

To be honest, I’m not sure what to think about it.

When I first started working in the pharmacy at Wal-Mart, I vowed to myself that I would quit work if I ever developed what I call “the Wal-Mart shuffle.” The Wal-Mart shuffle is something you see a lot among the older and/or overweight associates (for those not in the know, Wal-Mart calls their employees “associates”). It’s a way of walking, or shuffling, that gives off the message: I am in pain. Physical pain is a large part of it, but there’s also the mental and emotional pain of working for a company whose management style, in my experience and opinion, is designed to beat people down, sucking the life, the confidence, and the self-esteem out of them.  I’ve even see a few members of management acquire their own version of the shuffle due to Wally World’s trickle down policy.

I’m pretty sure I was doing a version of the Wal-Mart shuffle when I quit. The back pain and sciatica were heavy contributors, but in hindsight, the job itself was wearing me out. I was lucky in that I’d had some good bosses (pharmacy managers and pharmacists) throughout my almost six years with Wally World. I also had the misfortune to have worked with some loony toons who had no business working in a pharmacy and/or with the public.

The thing about this new plan of Wal-Mart’s is that I can’t help but wonder if the associates would be better off in the long run, healthier and happier, if Wally World would take the money used to fund their new program and give it to the associates in the form of higher pay, better benefits, and compassionate work schedules. With their open availability policy and erratic scheduling, Wal-Mart makes it difficult on their associates to build healthy habits (such as regular exercise). Maybe it’s just me, but I find it much easier to maintain an exercise habit if I get into an exercise routine where I work out at the same time every day. It’s difficult to do that if your work schedule varies from day to day and week to week.

It should be noted that when I worked for Wal-Mart I did have a fairly regular schedule which varied according to the comings and goings due to a high turnover of techs and pharmacists. I was lucky in that I was hired in to work week days between the hours of 9-5. I didn’t work nights or weekends unless I was asked to fill in for another tech. That said, I do know that most associates are not so lucky. Back in the 90’s I worked as a cashier for Wal-Mart and my schedule was so erratic that it was impossible to plan anything. It was also exhausting in that I’d often be scheduled to work until closing (“closing” is when the store is clean and tidy as declared by a member of management which means that a particularly sadistic manager might keep everyone there until 1, 2 or 3am) and then scheduled to open the next day at 7am. That sort of scheduling, in my experience, is more the norm than my own schedule while working in the pharmacy.

The program sounds, in theory, like a great idea.  Self-improvement and environmentalism.  Who could argue with that?  And who knows… perhaps many of Wal-Mart’s newly self-improved associates will self-improve themselves into better jobs.

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