By December 7, 2008 14 Comments Read More →

More on Meijer (That Sounds Like "Moron Meijer")

Recently, I blogged about management practices at the midwest retail chain Meijer. It was a sad (and not uncommon) story of quotas and threats to employees — if you don’t work at a certain speed, you’re fired. 

My post drew an email response from someone who says they are a long-time Meijer employee. I’m reprinting parts of her email with her permission.

Last year 90 cashiers store wide were fired for being “too slow.” Some went into a group arbitration, it was just settled. The few that got their jobs back were sent to other lower paying jobs. 

The one Girl from our store worked for Meijer for over 25 years, she took an “early retirement”, which kept her pension intact, but she is only 46. She was full time, lives alone. 

She now works 2 jobs to pay her bills, one at Walmart. She was off over a year with 6 months unemployment. None of the workers that got their jobs back or this girl got any back pay. 

The last few months Meijer had suspended the 95% speed, but it started again last week, and they will begin writing us up again in a few weeks. 

We are all very stressed, not just because of the 95% speed minimum, but because Meijer averages ALL the stores together to get the “average.” Our store has outdated equipment, the registers are old, the scanners are old. The scales are built into the scanners and often “shut down” at least 5 times in an 8 hours shift. You have to reset them, which can take a few minutes, all while your timer is running. The Union does nothing but tell us to “write down” any problems you have in a notebook in case you get written up.
Wow — not only did Meijer implement some pretty draconian time standards, it seems like they really blew it by averaging all stores together. Talk about being disconnected from reality. If store A has different equipment than store B, why would you ever average the two together to set standards for either store? The store with the better equipment will find it much easier to hit the averages than the store with the junky old equipment. How can this seem like a good system to Meijer management?
We also have other rules that are stressful. 

We do Punch in on the registers, which is fine., but they implemented a new discipline system with this. If you are 1 minute late in for day or for break, you get written up. 

After 3 times you are given a day off to decide if you want to “shape up”. Then when you come back you have to be on time for 9 months or you are fired! This is no joke. 

If we talk among ourselves, we get told not to. 

We have to “tuck in our shirts” or we are to be written up. 

We also have a “Cashier Dialogue” that we are supposed to say and tell each guest about a survey at the bottom of the receipt, or we will be written up. 

We HAVE to ask everyone under 40 for ID to buy cigarettes or alcohol. Even if it is a regular customer or a coworker that you have checked and know how old they are. 

If they catch you not entering the ID manually into the register, you will be written up. (they send fellow employees through the line that are under 40 to see if we check). Last week 2 people were written up. 

We are supposed to do this and be fast! 

Bottom Line… Meijer USED to be a fun place to work, now it’s like going to jail for the day. 

We want to continue being friendly and helping customers, but we will be written up if we take the time to.
I don’t see how a “write them up” culture does anything but build a combative climate between workers and management. What would Dr. Deming say? Substitute Leadership? Productivity is good, being on time is good… but you’re going to fire a good employee for being 1 minute late a few times? 

A second email from “Daisy” at Meijer continues… “Fastlanes” are the automated checkouts where one person oversees multiple checkout points (I’m sure you’ve all used them at grocery stores or Home Depot).

Now our Meijer store is on the kick AGAIN of taking away out floor mats at the Fastlanes! Every few months they take our floor mat away, we keep puttin it back and eventualy it dies down. 

The cashier lanes have mats to stand on, but we are not supposed to stand at the cashier station (2 monitors with 10 lanes)!

The “big shot” corporate bosses caused this. (they have no idea how the Fastlanes even work from MY side).

Fastlane can NOT be run properly and smoothly without using the cashier station. In fact, when a NCR tech was in one day last year, he does NOT recommend over riding everything at the robot, as it was not designed for that. I have to go to each robot to hand enter ID for cigarettes and alcohol, so I don’t have a lot of time to “loiter” at the cashier station anyway. All we want is a mat to rest our feet a few times an hour.

This is how Meijer treats their employees, like dogs. They are going to start writing up the “slow” people again soon, but have not done any improvements on the checkout lanes.

I bolded the part about management not understanding how the checkouts work. Sounds like Meijer leaders need to get to the “gemba” (the place where the actual work is done). It’s easy (and often wrong) to make management pronouncements that are out of touch with reality if you don’t see first hand what’s going on.

The USA Today had an editorial about this issue recently:

Is your cashier cranky? Big Brother may be watching

Creepy monitoring systems undermine customer service.

 

Some large retailers are using “performance monitoring systems” that time cashiers to make sure they’re checking out shoppers as fast and efficiently as they can. Some of the cashiers monitored this way don’t dare smile at customers or even make eye contact for fear shoppers will start a conversation that will slow the checkout process and give the cashier a black mark. Even wishing shoppers “happy holidays” seems risky.

Well, that should make for a pleasant shopping experience.

USA Today asks a good question along the lines of something I also blogged about last year:

Is this really a smart strategy for brick-and-mortar retailers whose main advantage over online competition is personal service and the human touch? Or is it in the tradition of the management geniuses at Circuit City who fired 3,400 of their top-producing salespeople in a cost-cutting move that sped the company’s descent into bankruptcy

The comments on the USA Today article are worth reading too… one reads:

Having worked in retail, for over 35 years, the truth is now that the stores only care about the profit. Being friendly to the customer is a THING OF THE PAST. Lets fact the truth, RETAILERS HAVE STOPPED CARING FOR THE EMPLOYEE. 

I’m just thankful that the people who are implementing these systems are not calling this “Lean.” Either way, it stinks and it’s dehumanizing and it seems like a really short-sighted way to run a business. I’ll go back to my online Christmas shopping now.


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Mark Graban's passion is creating a better, safer, more cost effective healthcare system for patients and better workplaces for all. Mark is a consultant, author, and speaker in the "Lean healthcare" methodology. He is author of the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, as well as The Executive Guide to Healthcare Kaizen. His most recent project is an eBook titled Practicing Lean that benefits the Louise H. Batz Patient Safety Foundation, where Mark is a board member. Mark is also the VP of Improvement & Innovation Services for the technology company KaiNexus.

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14 Comments on "More on Meijer (That Sounds Like "Moron Meijer")"

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  1. Mark Graban says:

    The NY Times today has an article about Best Buy bending over backward for both the employees and customers.

    LINK

    Two weeks before Black Friday, Ms. Adoniz gave in to employees’ requests and had a Red Bull vending machine installed at the store, at 62nd Street and Broadway in Manhattan. Many in the sales staff of 140 are drama students, opera singers and actors who may run themselves ragged selling electronics by day and performing at night. To keep them from getting hungry and cranky over the long Thanksgiving weekend, Ms. Adoniz let them wear slippers and Uggs boots to work, and had food delivered three times a day.

    Employees aren’t the only ones being tended to this shopping season. To lure customers, Ms. Adoniz waits for – and on – their dogs. “We have a doggie water bowl with filtered water, and treats for them as well,” she says.

  2. Rick Bohan says:

    And soon, like other greedy, stupid corporate “leaders”, they’ll be in front of Congress, hats in hand, begging for our money with no strings attached, while the pundits blame the workers.

  3. Andrew says:

    I am totally in sympathy with the sentiments here, except the one that makes “PROFIT” sound like a dirty word. Quoting from the USA Today commentaries:

    “Having worked in retail, for over 35 years, the truth is now that the stores only care about the profit.”
    Let’s remember, PROFIT is what Toyota is all about also. The difference, of course, is that they know the WAY to profit is built on employee engagement, delivering value to the customer at the lowest possible cost, etc. So, the key to the commentary in USA Today is the second part:
    “Being friendly to the customer is a THING OF THE PAST. Lets fact the truth, RETAILERS HAVE STOPPED CARING FOR THE EMPLOYEE.” This is NOT the way to profitability – certainly not over the long haul.

    Speaking of “Everything I needed to know about LEAN I learned in the first grade”, what about the goose that laid the golden egg?

    Toyota knows that if you want those golden eggs to keep coming you don’t cut open the goose to get them out faster (ala Meijer), you spend your time looking after the goose that lays them!

  4. Anonymous says:

    You are rightly critical of performance comparisons of different stores using different equipment but that is exactly what many/most do in health care. Med Surg Nursing is Med Surg Nursing is Med Surg Nursing. And why can’t you hit the numbers like hospital xyz is? Baloney. There are differences in acuity,length of stay, average census, patient condition when patients step-down, nursing skill level, support staff, electronic charting technology, etc, etc, etc. The same finance guys at Meijer went to the same schools as the leaders of most health care institutions and buy into the same line from consultants about managing by the numbers often with not one iota of effort to improve processes.

  5. rearden215 says:

    As one of the last remaining and practicing Taylorites, I commend anyone who walks about with stopwatch in hand and metes out Darwinian justice.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Rearden, are you 112 years old? You sound like a real joy to work with. Could you please elaborate on your “Darwinian justice?”

  7. Mark Graban says:

    Hospital anon — You’re absolutely right. We need more of a “gemba” focus instead of a finance focus in healthcare. Too many staffing levels are set on budgets or benchmarks that have nothing to do with the reality of the work being done (or not being done). It’s frustrating, I agree.

    How do we change this mindset more quickly in the industry?

  8. JB says:

    It’s good to hear there are only a few “remaining Taylorites” ; – )

  9. Suze says:

    Meijer is rotten….way worse that Walmart. It pretends to care about it’s workers….IT DOES NOT………The UFCW 951 (The Union you HAVE TO JOIN when you are hired) will take your money and run…..the union is in Meijers back pocket. Evil, greedy, money hungry, unethical, immoral, sleezy, words that come to mind when thinking of Meijer and UFCW 951..

  10. Ian says:

    As a (recently former) Meijer worker, I am in agreement with Suze. The labor relations are made that much worse by UFCW 951, which goes for quiet arbitration and information-gathering when it’s painfully clear the the company’s no longer operating in good faith. I would have struck in a heartbeat; a lot of other people would have too, but it’s pretty clear by the union’s behavior and its membership rolls that it’s bedfellows with the corporation it’s supposed to be checking.

    What seems to have been missed in this discussion is what the 95% standard was really about: age discrimination. Meijer had already quietly combined departments in such a way as to require strenuous physical activity regardless of one’s department, forcing out (for example) old ladies in Cosmetics who suddenly had to stock and restock and otherwise maintain an entire drug store worth of aisles.

    Loyal cashiers were driven out at my store too. It was mostly the older ones, who had a culture of service ingrained into them, and who worked a little slower and a little better… but they were also at their wage cap, which I believe was $16.50. If there were openings in non-service departments, they could sometimes transfer; otherwise, they’d be fired. If they transferred, their wage was cut by over a third to the general merchandise zone cap of $10.50. In either case, they were replaced with newly hired cashiers for the state minimum wage of $7.40, if Meijer bothered to replace them at all.

    I personally knew one such cashier who went from a comfortable, well-earned 20-year career leading to that top cashier wage, to living paycheck-to-paycheck on $10.50. (In five years there I never earned closed to that much, but I know what losing a third of my pay is like.) She fought with the union and the company literally to the day she was found dead of a heart attack. She was only .. 60? 65? Meijer killed her, and I felt like I was headed the same direction.

  11. lysander says:

    The so-called “restructuring” by Meijer in 2007 was certainly about
    age and it was also targeted at store management. But Meijer covered their behind legally by issuing fraudulent Performance Evaluations that cast many good managers as not productive or generally sub-standard. The “fraud” may or may not be provable, but it’s virtually impossible to perform thousands of honest employee evaluations that
    are going to result in 500 job eliminations. Also, after previous “restructurings”, the idea that there was still a significant amount of deadwood in store management was absurd. I personally don’t take issue with a company tightening it’s belt to compete, and actually believe it’s suicide not to, but I don’t think it’s necessary or advisable to use a system that will put a company at legal risk in the process. Meijer had a well-funded pension fund, which should have been used to encourage early retirement. That, coupled with a 2 or 3 year attrition would have easily attained their “lean” goal of eliminating 500 management positions without the negative PR.
    In the case of Meijer, other reasons have to be considered as to what was behind what seems to me as panic cost-cutting. Of course they’re concerned about competing with Wal-Mart, Target, et al, but company history and store financing are revealing: Meijer is a privately owned company. We can only guess about their financials, but it is known that because they don’t have the ready cash of a publicly-held company (especially when the market was stronger) they have to enter into complex limited partnerships in order to expand. Thus, Meijer is actually a group of small companies, some held by the original family, and others by groups of investors who have little or no history with Meijer and even no experience in retailing. Some of these investors are placed on the Board of Directors to be sure and may not be concerned about the long-term health of the company; they simply want a return on their investment in Store A, B, C and/or D. To see the source of a company’s problems, one need only look at the top.

  12. ChrisS says:

    The problems started when Meijer was unionized. It did not help at all. It made things MUCH worse. Meijer has to control costs. The only way to do that is to take an adversarial stance to every unionized employee. While the union helped to get better pay and benefits for Meijer employees it also helped to create the situation you see today.

    Meijer has to have cause to fire people so that they will not be forced to give raises. They make up this cause using the 95% speed rule. It effectively does what economic pressure did before. It eliminates cashiers before they get too highly paid. A cashier job was never meant to be a job for life.

  13. Mark Graban
    Twitter:
    says:

    You say:

    Meijer has to control costs. The only way to do that is to take an adversarial stance to every unionized employee.

    That’s a very sad mindset and view of the world? The “only” way? Give me a break. You might believe that’s your only way, but it doesn’t make it true.

    How was Toyota successful with their UAW workers in Fremont, CA (the “NUMMI” plant?). It wasn’t because they systematically drummed out employees who were “too highly paid.”

    At least we agree that Meijer is “making up” ways to fire people. You can run your business your way…. good luck with that. But that’s not the world I’d want to work or manage in.

  14. Ashley says:

    Not all Meijers have unions. That being said – Meijer may be a great store to shop at – but it is terrible to work for. The biometrics do not work for cashiers, nor anything else. The Uscans are terrible. Constant breakdowns of the equipment. The stores might have 30 lanes and only uscan and 1 real lane is open. Employees are supposed to earn extra money getting credit applications and catching shoplifters – more empty promises. The turnover of employees is very high. It is next to impossible to meet the goals set by the management. They call themselves a friendly family company – and they are certainly NOT friendly to work for. They are also making changes to pension and health care. There are different rules for different employees. Lots of sabatoging to get rid of people so friends and relatives can be hired. They are creating a hateful work environment. Now they are pushing the credit cards big time too. Walmart at least doesn’t have employees clock out for 15 minute breaks and have a timer in the register.

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