Walmart’s “Big Brother” Program May Be One of the Worst HR Moves Ever

The Walmart corporation has more thn 4,000 stores and 1 million hourly workers in America. Among these workers is a group named the Organization United for Respect at Walmart who argue for higher hourly wages and other benefits. In response to the formation of this labor group, Walmart decided to hire the world’s largest defense contractor, Lockheed Martin, to gather information about its employees.

The contractor proceeded to monitor employee’s Facebook and Twitter accounts for any sort of activism. A technology known as LM Wisdom would analyze information from these social media platforms and report any activity that “has the power to incite organized movements, riots and way political outcomes.” Any information was forwarded to Walmart headquarters and then to the FBI. Kris Russell, a risk program senior manager, explained that the program went so far as to track the location and movements of certain participants. He explains: “With some assistance from LM we have created the attached map to track the caravan movements and approximate participants.”

This surveillance program has given Walmart information about credible threats such as Black Friday protests and a 2013 planned “Ride for Respect” protest. Walmart’s new senior vice president for human resources in conjunction with Lockheed Martin has announced that their cyber units are under “strategic review.” Walmart has declined to comment on whether this program is still active.

Within the past few weeks, Walmart publicly released testimony proving the retail giant’s surveillance of employees and Walmart knows the public will not react positively to this revelation. Walmart’s public relations department released a response, “We know it takes quality associates to give our customers a great shopping experience and we’re proud of the wages and benefits package we offer.”

The human resources department is responsible for several employee-related duties. This department is charged with determining which applicants are best suited for Walmart positions, recruiting these applicants and training them to perform their duties. Once the employees are hired, this department is in charge of administering payroll and managing employee benefits programs. They are in charge of managing employee records, tending to information systems and employee relations. The decision by Walmart’s HR to contract with the FBI and Lockheed Martin appears to be one of the very worst decisions they could have made.

This decision is a nightmare for HR because it severely undermines employee’s trust and loyalty to the company. Many believe that such a decision was a major abuse of power by Walmart. This revelation is only one more negative aspect Walmart will have to overcome in light of recent accusations of company discrimination, international labor rights abuses and insufficient payroll and benefits. HR recognizes that employees need to feel valued, motivated and dedicated to their company in order to be more productive.

Walmart’s statement explains that they feel their compensation and benefits packages are fair, so their human resources department will need to focus on other areas in order to increase employee engagement. HR software and solutions to increase the efficiency and ease of managing employees and can be useful in allowing more time to focus on employee happiness.

One aspect that HR could focus on is developing policies and strategies that help communicate and reinforce positive company values. This can help unify employees and greatly improve employee engagement and retention. Walmart and other companies can also focus on employee recognition to develop a sense of core values, trust, motivation and overall satisfaction.

The best aspect that HR could focus on in hopes of re-routing Walmart’s protests is creating or improving upon their conflict resolution policies. Creating processes and outlets for unsatisfied employees can prevent destructive outcomes and possibly even inspire new solutions. Employee satisfaction surveys can provide the company will various insights and information without the need for surveillance and FBI contracts. Focusing on these aspects are imperative for Walmart to maintain employee satisfaction.

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Written by:
Alex Espenson is a recently retired business owner turned consultant, with a passion for entrepreneurism and marketing. When he isn't writing or consulting, you can usually find him out on the river with his fly rod, or hiking in the hills near his home in Boulder Colorado.
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