Workers reveal what it's really like to work at Walmart

Few companies embody the grandeur and promise of supermarkets like Walmart does. It's the type of store where you can walk in looking for toothpaste and walk out with fresh fruit, an inflatable raft, veggies, new jeans, and a blender. While it's easy to get distracted by the sheer number of items for sale, there are employees behind the scenes making sure whatever someone may need is on the store floor. Many, many employees.

Walmart is one of the largest employers in the United States and one of the largest in the world with 2.2 million employees. The only employers with a bigger workforce are the United States Department of Defence and China's People's Liberation Army, according to MarketWatch. As you might imagine, this can make some workers feel like just another cog in the machine, and there are many complaints from workers and former workers on forums like Reddit and Quora. Still, there are benefits (bonuses and upward job mobility included) to working at Walmart if a worker plays their cards right.

Here's what it's like to work at Walmart, according to comments made by workers and former workers.

There are many Walmart employee healthcare options, but they get mixed reviews

Healthcare is one of the most desirable aspects of employment for workers in the U.S. — nearly half of American workers are on some sort of employer-sponsored healthcare, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. At Walmart, the corporate policy is that both full- and part-time workers have access to the company's employee healthcare (though full eligibility and what the healthcare options are depend on a number of factors, including when the person was hired, how much they work, and their job title). There are a number of options outside of straightforward healthcare as well, like health savings plans.

On Reddit, employee reviews of the health insurance policies are mixed. One worker, who said they've worked at Walmart for almost 13 years, notes that "every year it seems to get more expensive," but that the healthcare they have is "OK if you're not constantly going to the clinic or hospital." In another thread, workers said the HRA (Health Reimbursement Arrangement) is a decent option and that "healthy adults won't need to pay anything if they just have a physical and one to two appointments a year."

In r/Walmart two years ago, a number of employees chimed in with a different experience. The vision and dental coverage received generally positive reviews, but for anyone who needed medical insurance for anything major or for underlying conditions, uncovered costs "will set you back A LOT" because of high deductibles, one worker wrote.

If you want to work full-time at Walmart, you may not get your wish

Just because you ask for something doesn't mean you'll get it. Alistair Torrance, who has worked for Walmart for five years, wrote a post about the job for the website Tough Nickel and detailed a number of issues when it comes to scheduling. Full-timers have to have a minimum of 35 hours, Torrance wrote, while the maximum for part-time workers is 33 hours a week. While Torrance was able to get full-time hours, Torrance wrote that Walmart regularly hired two part-time workers rather than having one full-time worker.

Other employees have posted similar experiences about wanting to increase their time and not being able to. A worker on Reddit's r/WalmartEmployees posted that they were looking for more hours and told their manager as much, but requests seemed to fall on deaf ears. Another worker posted that they were brought on as a temp worker with 32 hours on the schedule, but then had zero hours the following week and another 32 hours the week after that. 

Scheduling consistency, it appears, isn't a Walmart benefit, which can take a toll on workers who are looking to move up into a full-time position. Getting stuck in a perpetual part-time role is what one study by The Center For Popular Democracy and the Fair Workweek Initiative calls Walmart's "phantom ladder of opportunity."

It's too easy to get (and stay) sick at Walmart

With more than two million workers around the world, there are a lot of workers who come face to face with a lot of customers, and that is not always ideal for worker health ... especially in a pandemic.

In a Reddit thread about the Walmart employee experience, a former worker said they were sick "continuously for about 18 months." They added that "working so closely with the public exposes you to all sorts of contagions," and that they continued to go to work because they couldn't afford not to.

Any job that puts workers face to face with customers can be risky in terms of catching colds and other illnesses. At Walmart, an absence policy can make it hard to take the time needed to get better, according to a white paper by the research group A Better Balance. The paper outlines how workers are disciplined for missing days with a "three strikes and you're out" policy that "punishes workers for things they cannot control" like getting sick. One worker A Better Balance interviewed said that she was punished for getting the flu and had "to worry about getting fired" because of taking a sick day.

In the New York Times, Walmart employee Melissa Love wrote that "people can get fired for taking too many sick days," so employees "face the impossible choice of going to work sick and possibly infecting others or risking our already precarious finances."

Yearly raises are available at Walmart, but they're minimal

Starting pay at Walmart depends on each state's minimum wage laws, but the average store associate gets a two percent annual raise, according to multiple employee reports on Reddit and Quora.

One worker posted on Reddit that the "measly" two percent raise isn't based off of the yearly evaluation, so increased work doesn't necessarily mean increased pay. Sales associate Abigail Milby seconded this on Quora, stating that raises start in April for people employed for at least six months, "but your raise is no longer attached to your review."

The two percent annual increase isn't high enough to keep up with minimum wage laws and cost of living increases for some employees, however. An employee posted on Reddit that they were making the minimum wage of $12.60, but their annual increase came just before the minimum wage in their state increased to $13.50. Instead of the two percent increase applying to the new minimum wage, it applied to their old wage. So in effect, the worker's "yearly raise" simply moved them to the legal minimum wage that everyone starts at.

That worker isn't alone. Other long-term employees posted in the thread that the same thing happened to them over the years as base pay and minimum wage laws increased, with one person adding, "Here I was with three years as an associate under my belt and making the same pay as a first-day hire" despite the annual increase.

Walmart offers 'just a job' that's good when you need money

While the scheduling can be tough and the benefits can be lacking, some employees view working at Walmart as simply a job that's a means to an end when you need money.

In a post on Reddit's r/Jobs, someone asked if Walmart is really as bad as some of the other reviews on Reddit make it out to be. Some replies were an emphatic yes it's terrible, while others were more apathetic. "Yes, the hours suck at times, the work can be monotonous, but it isn't forever," one employee wrote, adding that "there's a cliche I've found to be mostly true: your attitude determines your altitude." Another wrote that, "If you are just looking for a job to save money and for the most part don't care which days/hours you work you will get exactly what you are looking for working for Walmart."

When push comes to shove, workers who said Walmart wasn't all that bad tended to also note that working at Walmart is better than no job at all. One worker summed up the Walmart employee experience in a short and bittersweet statement: "It isn't where you want to work, it's where you go when you need to."

High turnover at Walmart makes it hard to be organized

Worker turnover is not just a Walmart problem — the National Retail Federation puts the turnover rate for retail workers at around 60 percent — but it can be especially bad for Walmart workers. On Reddit, Walmart employees reported turnover rates as high as 92 and 94 percent. Simply put, high turnover makes it hard for the people who stay to fill the gaps.

One employee posted on Reddit that the struggle to keep employees made Walmart "a bit of a mess." When a person quit, the worker wrote, their supervisor didn't notice for two weeks. Someone still has to do that work, though, and that typically means another person leaving their job to cover until another person is hired. 

In a thread in r/Walmart about the turnover rate, one person wrote that "most people leave because understaffing is so bad that you can't afford to train people properly before throwing them to the wolves." Another added that when multiple cashiers leave at the same time, it's not unheard of for there to be more people who need to be trained than there are people to do the training: "It takes ages to get enough cashiers in to reach the tipping point where the workload is reasonable enough to not scare off the majority of the new hires, and by then we're only hiring temps for Christmas that all get laid off in January and we're short handed again."

The mix of flexible and core scheduling is hard on Walmart employees

Walmart has a custom scheduling system that decides the hours for each worker. One part of the system is what it calls "core hours," which is a set schedule the employee works for at least 13 weeks in a row. It gives "that associate the ability to plan his or her life around work," Walmart said in a statement. The other side of the scheduling system is that employees can use an app to pick open shifts that need to be filled or swapped with other workers. 

The current scheduling system replaced Walmart's on-call system, which required employees come in at basically any time. It was not well-liked, as you can imagine. The new system has its drawbacks as well, however. Employees on Reddit's r/WalmartEmployees posted that they want more hours, but there are never any available on the app. Another posted that their core hours are too long and they couldn't shorten their hours after returning from medical leave, which led to a confusing conundrum: "Other employees complain that they can't get enough hours, but I can't get less hours. Is it all a conspiracy to piss us off?"

Talking to lots of people at Walmart every day is great for your resume

If you look for it, you can find a lesson and positive takeaways from just about any job. As a customer-facing Walmart worker, one of those lessons is customer relations — a skill that can help boost a Walmart employee's resume for many other types of jobs once they decide it's time to move on.

On Quora, Walmart employee Marianne Davis listed the resume benefit of customer service as one of the main plusses to working at the company. As Davis put it, "customer service is something that you'll use at pretty much any job you'll find advertised." Another employee on Reddit's r/Jobs found the retail experience beneficial to their resume, and they said that the customer interaction part of the job "helped me with my public speaking skills because of how many people a day you are forced to interact with."

So while there are plenty of workers and former employees who list Walmart as just "a job," there's a silver lining to how the type of work can set you up for the future depending on how you look at it.

Walmart associates have the potential for bonuses

Everybody loves a bonus. In response to the question "What are the best aspects of working at Walmart?" on Quora, many sales associates chimed in that the potential for quarterly bonuses is among the best parts of the job.

An employee named Matt Williams noted that, while "there really aren't any aspects of working at Walmart that I would personally describe as 'great,'" workers get a bonus every three months if the store did well that financial quarter. It's a big "if" however, and the bonus is not always guaranteed, especially if the store didn't do well. A former employee named David Pedraza posted about his experience on Quora, stating the bonuses ranged from "really low" to up to $400.

Workers have to stick around for a bit if they want to try and earn a bonus. To be eligible, a worker has to complete the training program, which is called Pathways. Pathways used to take six months, but as of 2017, CNBC reports that it takes around 90 days to complete training, while one worker on Reddit mentioned it only took about two months.

If you want it, advancement at Walmart is possible

At Walmart, it's possible to start from the bottom and rise up. Numerous current and former employees posted on Quora that, along with the performance bonuses, upward job mobility for those who want it was a major plus to working with the company. And Walmart isn't shy about letting people know it. "You can ACTUALLY move up in the company," sales representative Carolyn Warhurst posted on Quora. "It's not just a statement they make." Former worker David Pedraza posted in the above Quora thread that it's "fairly easy" to move up, and that he's seen "hard workers get promoted to department managers in as little as four months."

Candie Helton, another employee who posted on the Quora thread, added more specificity to her response with, "at the store level there is potential to move up quickly." The very top of the store level isn't bad — according to the Washington Post, store managers make an average of $175,000 a year. 

In another set of Quora responses to the question of what Walmart's promotion process is like, employee Marianne Davis said there's a simple formula to advancing at the company: "The most basic part is just being a basic employee, and not slacking off. Show up on time, do your work, don't complain but if you don't understand what an assignment is ask questions until you do understand."

Walmart employees may feel like 'replaceable cogs'

While it's relatively easy for workers to be trained in new areas of the store, it can make everyone feel a little like just one easily replaceable part.

"If you work at Wal-Mart, you are a completely replaceable cog in an unimaginably large machine," is how one worker described the experience on Reddit. Another added in the same thread that even advancing internally won't save a worker: "Even once you reach manager level, you are still completely replaceable."

The bleak sentiment was shared one other time in the thread when someone wrote that, "no matter how high you climb, Wal-Mart is such an enormous company that unless you attain executive status (which 99/100 times demands a college degree) you will always be one bad mistake away from being fired."

Stories about employees who received notice can be found across the sub-Reddit r/Walmart, which are seen as a "grim reminder at being at the mercy of middle management," as one worker put it.

Perhaps the feeling is less surprising when you look at the company's history over the past couple of decades. Though the practice has been discontinued, Walmart used to take out (and cash in on) employee life insurance policies sometimes called Dead Peasants Insurance, according to the Wall Street Journal.