Workers Reveal What It's Really Like To Work At H-E-B

People who have never lived in Texas probably don't quite understand the place H-E-B has in Texans' hearts. Sure, folks in other places may feel loyalty towards their favorite grocery stores, but that's nothing compared to the adoration that H-E-B inspires in the Lone Star State. Do other grocery store chains boast customers with tattoos of their logo? Has another supermarket chain been the subject of a loving oral history project by a local newspaper (via Victoria Advocate)? H-E-B is as big a part of Texan identity as chicken fried steak, crude oil, or cowboy boots.

We know that H-E-B's customers think it can do no wrong, but what about its employees? The brand likes to cultivate its image as an employee-friendly company, and it has some outside data to back that up, too. For instance, Glassdoor named it the 17th Best Place to Work in 2020 based on anonymously submitted employee reviews.

However, as we've seen before, worker experiences can vary across different branches of large chains. And even a good job can come with some stress and complications. H-E-B employs thousands of people in a multitude of different careers and settings, so while many employees love the company just as much as the average Texan, other people have some beef with the retailer. Read on to discover the truth about working at H-E-B from firsthand employee accounts.

You can get discounted or free food there

According to the company's website, H-E-B offers a 10% discount for employees on all of its store brands. Since H-E-B is known for its huge selection of store brand products, employees can use that benefit on a large portion of their groceries. The discount extends to any family members that live with an employee, too. But what's even better than discounted food? Free food, of course!

H-E-B doesn't appear to have an official company-wide policy about giving free food to employees, but dozens of reviews on Glassdoor mention receiving this perk. One former customer service representative said "more likely than not there will be snacks and lunches brought in for departments from within the store," with managers signing off on the handouts. The brand's friendly attitude toward feeding its employees was corroborated by one Reddit user, who claimed to work on the night crew at H-E-B. They said their store always had free bottled water, cookies, and other snacks stocked in the breakroom, and that on good days they could even score free salads and sandwiches from the deli.

Since the free food seems to be distributed on an ad-hoc, store-by-store basis, it may not be available at every store or for every employee. That said, the practice is widespread enough to show up in multiple internet sources, so it may still be fairly common.

H-E-B stores are big even for employees

They say everything's bigger in Texas, and it appears that the grocery stores there are no exception. The San Antonio Business Journal reports that the average H-E-B clocks in at around 70,000 to 80,000 square feet, or almost 2 acres. That's much larger than the U.S. national average of about 40,000 square feet (via GE Current). While many grocery store chains are starting to focus on smaller floor plans, H-E-B is doubling down on size, creating enormous buildings that serve as much more than just grocery stores.

According to one self-proclaimed H-E-B overnight stocking crew member in San Antonio (via Chron.), this size means that employees won't necessarily know where everything in the store is. You might think that curbside or stocking employees, who regularly have to traverse the whole store shelving and looking for items, would know their building like the backs of their hands. For many employees, whether they're newbies or seasoned pros, it's hard to remember absolutely everything. When you start a job at H-E-B, prepare to spend a lot of time building a mental map of your store. Even then, you might get stumped on occasion.

The pandemic made wages go up, but maybe not enough

Per Supermarket News, H-E-B earned praise during the early stages of the pandemic when it announced a temporary $2-per-hour raise for all hourly warehouse and store workers to compensate for the additional hazards and increased workload they were experiencing. When that raise expired in June 2020, it was replaced by what the company called the largest pay increase in its history. Employee testimonials on Indeed said the brand regularly gave its employees raises pre-pandemic as well, increasing pay one to two times a year on average.

Despite the raises, not all employees think that they are compensated fairly. A story on Austin's KXAN News says that the cost of living in Texas's cities, especially Austin, is rising fast and wages haven't been able to keep up. A Reddit thread of H-E-B employees was divided on the matter, with some saying they could live comfortably on their wages and others complaining that their "wages are not keeping up with the Texas economy." Some workers wished that they were paid based on productivity, saying "a system that tracks your performance and pays you by how hard you work with some kind of elaborate formula" would be more fair than the current system.

It's a good place to work if you have to go to school

It's hard to balance a job with going to school full time. However, employees who have worked at H-E-B while attending high school or college say that the company does a good job of working with them on their schedules. Reddit user kaitlynzuniga, who claimed to have worked at H-E-B as a teen, raved that "it's a very forgiving job with school schedules!"

H-E-B also offers flexibility to college students, with an anonymous user on Indeed saying "They allow the student to either take a leave of absence or transfer to another store closer to the individual so they may continue working while in school." Another commenter on the same thread claimed that the majority of the workers in their store were attending either college or high school.

There's a flip side to that, however. Flexible part-time hours are great for students, but perhaps not so much for adults who have to support a household. In 2017, one commenter on Indeed wrote that "it's hard to get full time at H-E-B." This situation appears to have changed somewhat since the covid-19 pandemic, with many employed at H-E-B reporting that they're getting scheduled for more hours than their "part-time" status would suggest (via Indeed).

H-E-B treats its Favor Runners differently from regular employees

In 2018, H-E-B announced that it had acquired Austin-based food delivery startup Favor. Favor functions the same way as other meal delivery services like DoorDash or Uber Eats, but for a local Texas market. Although Favor is now technically part of H-E-B, it operates independently from its corporate parent.

Like most food delivery apps, Favor's delivery workers (called Runners in the company jargon) are classified as independent contractors. Built In says that workers at H-E-B's stores are eligible for benefits like employee discounts, healthcare, paid medical leave, and a 401k retirement plan. In contrast, Favor runners receive no benefits at all. They're also responsible for their own expenses like gas and car repairs.

While some Favor contractors have said they made good money, the consensus of posters who claimed to be former Favor Runners on Reddit was that "you're better off getting steady work as a cashier" at H-E-B than trying to earn a living working Favor gigs. Some commenters thought that doing Favor deliveries was a good way to earn some extra cash on top of their normal jobs, but poster WBuffettJr said that by his math, "you'll walk away with around $4/hr." Yikes!

H-E-B workers often help when natural disasters hit

Responding to natural disasters isn't high on the list of an average supermarket worker's duties, but H-E-B isn't an average grocery store. The company sees itself as an important part of the disaster relief system in Texas, stating on its website that it "promises to stand by communities during times of crisis."

The company has put resources behind that promise several times. Texas Monthly reports that, when Hurricane Harvey caused widespread flooding and devastation in Southeast Texas in 2017, H-E-B sent drivers with water tankers to supply water to the city of Beaumont. It also supplied the region with Disaster Relief Units (DRUs) staffed by H-E-B workers, per FreightWaves. The DRUs distributed meals and offered basic medical and banking services to residents in Victoria, Texas.

H-E-B earned further praise for its efforts to help employees during the winter storms that froze Texas in early 2021. One Twitter user reported that "H-E-B really that company, paid time and a half if you come to work for your shifts or paid time off if you called out. And now assisting partners with no water and/or electricity. Its a lowkey flex working for them." So, as an H-E-B employee, you may have to help out fellow Texans in times of need, but the store also has a history of looking after partners when disasters strike, too.

H-E-B shows up in employee dreams

Work intrudes on the dreams of people in many industries, but if  this Reddit thread is to be believed, H-E-B inspires particularly vivid and surreal dreams in its employees. One user kicks it off with a nightmare in which "After a particularly busy saturday I had a dream that I had to quit my job because heb started selling dog meat and I couldn't handle bagging it." The experience left them wishing they had more typical work dreams "like showing up late or making a major mistake."

A bunch of H-E-B Redditors related to that story and contributed their own frightening work dreams. One cashier said his brother who worked at H-E-B Pharmacy had a dream where "he was in the shower at home and someone in curbside barged in on him asking for subs." Talk about taking your work home with you! User Babydwught wins the prize for the trippiest, saying "I had a dream where I was scanning and my beard was the item. Like not full face...Best way I can describe it is one of those mouth wallet things made in Japan." If you choose to work at H-E-B, it seems as if you'd better prepare for some interesting nights.

H-E-B employees win the internet with their enthusiasm

Now, not everyone needs to get excited for their shifts at a retail store. Many people work at grocery stores simply to support their lives as students, artists, parents, or otherwise and they faithfully do their job without adding any extra energy or flair. That's a respectable choice, but not every H-E-B employee chooses to just punch in their time card every day. Some elevate the basic duties of their job not for any worldly gain, but seemingly just for the sheer joy of it.

Some employees choose to add a little song and dance to their daily routines, for instance. Beaumont, Texas' 12News shared a video of a local H-E-B worker channeling James Brown with an irresistible jingle about her store's hot tamales. My San Antonio reported on local cashier Dabi Arreola, who went viral in 2018 with an impressive freestyle rap about that week's Flamin' Hot Funyuns deal.

While such displays of musical virtuosity certainly aren't mandatory, they can be lucrative. Arreola began rapping to customers when his manager offered a bonus for performances. He was able to snag a Visa gift card for selling pretzels with sick rhymes.

Sometimes things can get a little heated at H-E-B

Generally, customers at H-E-B are as polite and grateful as you could hope for. There are exceptions, unfortunately, especially since the beginning of the covid-19 pandemic and its various stressors. At least H-E-B isn't alone, as arguments about pandemic restrictions have caused violent incidents in many industries. The Chicago Sun-Times reported that the pandemic has made airline passengers more violent, mostly because of disputes over mask mandates. Debates about coronavirus-related policies have also caused disputes at H-E-B stores.

One of H-E-B's adjustments to supply-chain issues was to place limits on the number of meat items a customer could buy in one transaction, much as other grocery stores did during the pandemic. As Austin's Fox 7  shows, that sacrifice proved too much for one customer, who assaulted a cashier with various items from his cart before fleeing the scene. And an H-E-B store manager in Houston later told Vice News that they weren't able to enforce the company's mask mandate because "​​we do not want our leaders at risk for the abuse we have all taken the last several months."

On the other side of the equation, the Southeast Texas Record notes that an H-E-B employee allegedly assaulted a customer in 2021 after being asked to wear a mask. The issue of coronavirus restrictions clearly divides Texans, and you can expect mask debates and other similar issues to continue to be a source of conflict at H-E-B stores for a while.

They make employees feel like family

Forbes notes that H-E-B excels in the retail and grocery space because they have found a way to maximize both customer and employee satisfaction without apparently doing too much to sacrifice one for the other. One important reason? The oftentimes strong sense of shared identity that Texans often draw upon. That applies not just to customers at the regional grocery store chain, but to the company's employees as well. And, as a key component of this, H-E-B's branding appeals to basic human psychology by casting H-E-B's customers and employees as part of the same group.

That sense of belonging may contribute to H-E-B's high employee satisfaction ratings on job sites like Indeed, despite having lower average pay compared to some other retailers, such as Amazon. People who work at H-E-B, at least those discussing it on Reddit, believe that "the company itself definitely cares for its employees" and "they treat their employees right." The same can't always be said for other large grocery chains.

H-E-B encourages employees to stay

H-E-B claims to care about retaining employees, but how much does the company actually practice what it preachs? Some of its workers certainly agree that the company makes it easy to stick around for a long time. In 2017, Jeff Thomas, H-E-B's senior vice president and general manager for Central Texas, told the Austin Business Journal that "If you're going to work hard, you have a viable career path, and that's what makes people happy." That approach pays off for some workers who stay for a lifetime, like Ophie Garcia. He happens to be H-E-B's longest-working employee, who KVUE Austin says first started work at the store's cosmetics counter in 1965.

Ophie is not the only worker to spend decades at H-E-B, which boasts an A+ retention score from Comparably based on employee reviews. That being said, your experience as an H-E-B employee isn't guaranteed to be positive. While the company boasts an impressive overall 4.3 satisfaction rating Indeed, some former employees didn't feel valued at H-E-B, with one saying they "felt like another number."

You have to be quick to work for H-E-B curbside

There's plenty of evidence online that working for H-E-B's curbside service is stressful and physically demanding, much like in any other retail job but with the added pressure of fulfilling customer orders. Even other grocery giants like Costco have been reluctant to adopt the practice, and perhaps for good reason. One commenter on Reddit even claimed that they walked seven miles a day during the average shift. Another person on the same thread characterized their job this way: "Imagine shopping in a store for yourself and a dozen of your neighbors, within a certain time limit, while not forgetting anything, and making choices for them when things are out of stock." Sounds stressful, especially given that management constantly tries to cut hours, as some posters alleged.

Several people on Reddit say that they even sometimes have to skip lunch and other breaks in order to fulfill demand. Even worse, they say that they receive unfair treatment both from customers and from other H-E-B employees. Not every curbside worker gets burnt out, however. Some purport to thrive on the fast pace and physical nature of the job, like one user who said "I'm having the time of my life in curbside. Enjoying the workout i'm getting and schedule." This person also admits in the same post that they don't have a real social life, so perhaps that — and some extra stamina — is the secret to their success.

H-E-B can be picky about new hires

As we've seen, working at H-E-B has its upsides and downsides. Despite the potential hazards, however, H-E-B job openings remain pretty competitive. Commenters at Quora talk about having to go through several rounds of interviews to get even the most entry-level stocker and cashier jobs at the grocery chain. Sometimes the interview also includes a practical test. One writer describes prospective stockers doing a timed challenge that involved "navigating the store and finding an item and getting back to the manager," all without running or going over their allotted time. Several former employees remember going through group interviews and needing to come up with answers that stood out from the pack.

It can be a challenge to get a job at H-E-B, but some of the most dedicated people keep trying and trying until they finally snag a position. One person discussing the issue on Reddit says they applied 9 times before they finally landed a job. This hiring gauntlet is clearly not for everyone, but many people thrive at H-E-B nontheless. The grocery store boasts high employee satisfaction numbers for a reason, after all. And for the right person, H-E-B can be a lifetime employer.