Is Wal-Mart the Toughest HR Gig on the Planet?

Let me give you a few things to ponder about Wal-Mart:

  • 1 percent of Americans work at a Walmart store;
  • $.36 = amount of profit per $10 spent at Wal-Mart;
  • 600,000 +/- Number of new employees hired by Wal-Mart annually;
  • $15,000,000,000 (yes that’s Billion) in operating profit;
  • $10,000 – the amount of salary increase if Wal-Mart spent every cent they made in profit and divided it equally among all of its employees.

HR on a scale that’s hard to imagine

So, what does this all mean? It means that working in HR at Wal-Mart might be the single toughest job in HR in the entire world.

Most Americans would believe that Wal-Mart employees — the normal rank-and-file, store level employees — are underpaid. On average, a full time associate probably makes about $20,000 per year. Not too great of a living wage.

So, let’s play God/CEO, and now you’re in charge. We are going to give you all $15 billion in profit and let you go out and pay everyone more. Do you really think going from $20K to $30K is going to change lives, pull someone out of poverty, move them into the suburbs?

No, it won’t. By the way, Wal-Mart isn’t a non-profit, so thanks for the raise, but the Board just fired you because you don’t know how to run a company!

I’m not here to praise Wal-Mart as the savior of our society. They do plenty wrong, like most big businesses who are trying to make shareholders’ happy. I’m just here to try and get some HR Pros to take another look and have some respect for some peers (and I really don’t know any Wal-Mart HR Pros, I just believe it’s one tough job!) who are making it happen each and every day on a scale not one of us can imagine.

Let’s face it; working in HR shops at Zappos, Apple, Google, etc. aren’t really that tough. Yeah, I said it. Sure it was tough work getting on top, and it’s hard work each day staying on top, but try being on the bottom for a while.

Does Wal-Mart HR ever get honored?

Try working for a corporation that is so tight on profit margins that you only have 3 cents of every dollar you bring in to do anything extra for employees, and when you decide to do something extra, multiply that figure by 1.5 million! “Hey, we want to give away a Thanksgiving turkey to all of our employees,” equals a $25.5 million grocery bill. Makes your $4K budget for a holiday party look pretty good, doesn’t it?

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I love listening to the great HR Pros from the “Best Companies To Work For, ”because they have so much excitement and passion for their organizations. But, what I really would like to hear is how HR shops in the “Not So Great Companies To Work For” pull it off, especially those giant corporations.

It really stops being HR as 99 percent of us know it. It becomes an entire operation unto itself. Wal-Mart can make a benefit change, a design change, a selection assessment change, and entire industries are moved because of it. We (the collective lot of us in HR) decide we want to increase co-pays by $5 per office visit, and it doesn’t even register as a change.

Love ’em or hate ’em, HR at Wal-Mart is something that fascinates me. We all get to listen to the best practices of our peers and steal the best ideas and make them our own. Wal-Mart HR has no peers. Everything they do is industry best practice because no one is in their league from an employment standpoint in private industry.

When’s the last time they won an HR award?

This was originally published on Tim Sackett’s blog, The Tim Sackett Project.

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.


2 Comments on “Is Wal-Mart the Toughest HR Gig on the Planet?

  1. A $5000 raise would get money flowing and help the American economy.  It doesn’t have to be all or nothing.   Raises could be based on merit.  Most people earning $20,000 a year would welcome a $5,000 raise.  It could make a difference between having to choose between buying heating oil or food in the winter. 

  2. $20K to 30K is a more significant difference in someone’s life than 100K to 200K. It’s the difference between being able to pay the rent, go to the doctor if your sick or replace your only pair of work pants which has had a hole in the crotch for the last month. Do you really think a new granite countertop or being able to get a new car every year instead of every other year is equal to that?

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