Retailers Reprogram Workers In Efficiency Push

by Deepak Sharma on Thursday, September 11, 2008

Very interesting and thought provoking article on what happens when Technology and Culture collide. Talks about how Workforce Management systems are affecting Retail Workers.

Retailers Reprogram Workers In Efficiency Push -

Such "workforce-management" systems are sweeping the industry as retailers fight to improve productivity and cut payroll costs. Limited Brands Inc., Gap Inc., Williams-Sonoma Inc. and GameStop Corp. have all installed them recently. Some employees aren't happy about the trend. They say the systems leave them with shorter shifts, make it difficult to schedule their lives, and unleash Darwinian forces on the sales floor that damage morale.

"There was a lot of animosity" toward the system, says Kelly Engle, who worked at an Ann Taylor store in Beavercreek, Ohio, until late last year. "Computers aren't very forgiving when it comes to an individual's life."


Vendors of the systems claim they can boost productivity by 15% or more, and can help cut labor costs by 5% or more. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. just completed a yearlong rollout of a computerized scheduling system for 1.3 million workers. It cited 12% labor-productivity gains as a key reason for improved results in its fiscal quarter ended Jan. 31.

"There's been a natural resistance to thinking about human beings as pieces in a puzzle rather than individuals," says John M. Gibbons, a senior research adviser at the Conference Board and a former director of human resources at Gap. "When you have those clear methods of measurement, and just-in-time delivery for supply-chain management, it's a natural transition to apply it to human resources as well."

Vendors call their industry human-capital management. It notched $7.2 billion in revenue last year, and is projected to grow at 12% a year over the next five years, according to Boston-based AMR Research, which advises companies on information technology. Major providers of business systems, including Oracle Corp. and SAP AG, are now in the business.