This week in the news it was announced Wal-Mart would be giving the raises to hourly workers starting next month. In addition, full-time workers will be eligible for some additional benefits. But the news last week was not so good for some workers as Wal-Mart announced it was closing some stores.

This blog is not about Wal-Mart specifically but about the timing of those two announcements and the role communication can play in an organization.

It is not that uncommon for corporations to make back-to-back announcements like that, but the problem with it is that it sends the wrong message to employees. The message resonates well – in order to raise wages for some, we’re going to have to let others go. How do you think that bodes well for trust levels and the overall effect that is derived for employees? We care about some but others, not so much.

When the announcement came out about the raises, the New York Times reported the chief operating officer saying about employees, “…if they are rewarded simply and clearly, we will have better business.” So what are we to take from that? Is it more about the business and less about the right thing to do? The terms “simply and clearly” are they to mean employees will only understand in simple and clear language? Simple can also mean minimal. All of this says the communication sent to employees can provide mixed messages and not in a positive way that it may have been intended – depending on the environment.

Again, Wal-Mart isn’t any different than many businesses but it does provide an example of the mistakes businesses can make when they communicate to employees about issues that directly impact them.

The turnover rate at Wal-Mart, as cited in the article about raises was at 67% for part-time workers. That’s a horrible figure and is probably costing the company a substantial amount of money. If an organization has that much turnover and spends large amounts of money training replacements, it says a lot about the organization and the communication examples also give a good indication as to why the turnover is so high.

It’s very perplexing why people, particularly corporate executives, do not understand what this says to employees. These people are intelligent but it sometimes seems like the oxygen has not gotten to the brain.

In one of our recent blogs, we talked about the Future of Work summit that was sponsored by the U. S. Department of Labor. One of the participants was a banker who said many of the business people he worked with didn’t want to be bothered with the human element and maybe that means they don’t want to have to think about the reactions and perceptions of communication. Yet, it can play a significant role in their bottom line.

Think of the profit Wal-Mart might have if they didn’t have 67% turnover and those of other businesses with high turnover! That turnover could so easily be reversed if they took the time to LISTEN instead of sending mixed messages to their employees and focus on issues that persuade workers to maintain their employment.

While pay increases and additional benefits are great, they only last in the short term. If executives encouraged employees be more involved in the decision making of some of the day-to-day operations or treated them with respect and dignity, they may not have to make announcements about reduced profits or closing stores and eliminating jobs so others can gain in pay.

Remember our blog on Arthur T. Demoulas and Market Basket? In a New York Times article about entrepreneurship, Artie T. is an executive who believes in the human element and that has played huge rewards for that business. The link from below shows a picture on employees’ reaction to Artie T.’s message.  The positive messages Artie T. provides to employees earned him their backing and it carried through for the grocery chain as more stores are opening. Sales continue to grow because of the positive environment that encourages strong employee, customer and community support .  In August, the company was looking at making $5 billion for the year.  In addition, the employees receive additional rewards.  They get an increase to their  benefit plan.

So which messages would you want to hear or read about? Communication can play a major role in how employees respond to their working environments. Having employees fight for a CEO to remain in control or 67% turnover – who do you think conveys a better message?

About CALMC Blog

Columbus Area Labor-Management Committee is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to involving employers and employees to preserve jobs, resolve workplace issues, and promote labor-management cooperation. Visit our website at
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