Retailers   //   February 11, 2020

‘We weren’t getting a full view’: A Target workers group surveyed 500 employees to ask about wages and overwork

As big-box retailers are facing increased pressure to manage headcount, some store workers feel like they are expected to do more with less.

On Monday, an independent workers advocacy group called Target Workers Unite released what it claims are the results of an employee survey that shows the majority of workers surveyed said they aren’t able to live solely on their Target job, and that they feel overworked during their shifts, as Target is leaning on its stores to do more than ever before.

Target Workers Unite liaison Adam Ryan, a part-time worker at a Target store in Virginia, said that the group surveyed 500 Target workers in 44 states between March and July. He said the group surveyed workers by going in-person to some stores to alert them to the survey, sharing the questionnaire in online Target worker groups, and running paid ads on social media. Ryan said the group asked respondents for their store numbers and contact information as an attempt to ensure they only included answers from current Target workers.

“Every year, we survey hundreds of thousands of team members and consistently hear from our team that they’re satisfied with the pay, benefits and experiences they receive from Target,” a Target spokesperson said in a statement. Target has also said that on average, its team members are working more hours today than they did three years ago, and that it’s invested over $1 billion in payroll for its stores since 2016. 

“We’ll continue to solicit and respond to feedback from our team so we remain a place where our team members love to work,” the spokesperson added.

The survey results come from just a sliver of Target’s 360,000 part-time, full-time, and seasonal workers. But they are also representative of challenges that retail workers as a whole face. When Modern Retail spoke with a handful of salaried retail workers in December, many reported they had to work longer hours as their employers were reluctant to pay hourly workers overtime.

Retailers like Target have to spend more money to remodel stores or add services like buy online pick up in-store to ensure store sales keep rising, but at the same time also have to keep operating costs consistently low in order to keep investors happy.

“Being a retail store associate is more complex than its ever been — the kind of tasks you’re asked to do, the interaction you are asked to have with the customer, are more varied and complicated than ever before,” Jason Goldberg, chief commerce officer at Publicis, previously told Modern Retail.

Ryan said that Target Workers Unite decided to survey other workers because they were unhappy with the transparency around Target’s annual survey of its workforce, called Best Team. “We felt that we weren’t getting a full view of what’s going on at Target,” he said.

Some of the questions asked by Target Workers Unite included questions about how many hours a week they worked, if they’ve ever worked while technically off the clock, as well as more leading questions like if they thought team members deserve a living wage.

Nearly 30% of respondents said that they had one other job in addition to their job with Target, while 6.2% reported having two additional jobs.

Just over half reported “consistently” taking their allocated 15 minute breaks, while 26% reported having worked even when they had clocked out.

The survey also asked workers how they felt about Target’s plan to restructure its in-store stocking process, dubbed “modernization.” The goal is to ensure employees could spend more time on the floor, specializing in one particular area of the store like the beauty or electronics departments, while being able to stock the backroom more quickly. As part of modernization, Target eliminated some overnight and backroom shifts in the stores that tested it.

“Having specialized areas isn’t a bad thing, except for the fact that hours are cut to below bare-bones alongside it,” one employee said.

Some of the issues raised by workers in the survey are ones that have been raised by other Target workers to other news outlets. Last October, CNN reported that some workers have said that since Target announced it was raising its minimum wage to $15 an hour, their hours have been cut so much that they were struggling to make the same amount of money they did before they got a raise. That same month, Business Insider reported that some stores were struggling to adequately maintain their backrooms after implementing modernization.

Based on sales, Target’s plan is working. The company has posted a nearly 10% increase in comparable sales over the past two years, and executives have said the company’s decision to use its stores to fulfill online orders, rather than building more warehouses, has been key to growing online sales.

Target Workers Unite released a 10-point plan to accompany the results on the survey, calling on Target to give health care to all of its workers, as well as to hire more cashiers and bring back overnight stocking shifts.

“In the meantime we are trying to let other Target workers know about this, and ask them, ‘hey do you agree with this platform as a Target worker,'” Ryan said.