I believe I am uniquely qualified to speak on behalf of Wal-Mart’s benefits. I am a part time employee and have been for a number of years. I could have quit a long time ago, but I have chosen to stay on part time for one reason: the benefits. You see, I have a full-time job elsewhere working for a state government entity that also provides great benefits, but Wal-Mart has some unique ones that keeps me working there. 

I believe the reason people complain about Wal-Mart for its low wages and poor benefits is out of a lack of understanding, and a romantic view of the past, or an agenda. During the industrial revolution and until after World War II it was not important to be educated past high school in order to get a great factory job or other high paying job. If you worked hard enough, you could provide a decent income for your family. Well nothing has changed, except peoples perceptions of what is enough, and their views of hard work.

I am not going to lie, Wal-Mart expects hard work the whole time you are at your job. They intentionally fill every position with enough busy work to make sure you never stand around. That being said, the lower positions where people complain about poor wages, are very simplistic jobs with very little personal responsibility. You are observed, and informed of what you need to be doing throughout the day, and the company even has a routine for you to follow on your shift.  Wages are indeed low, but the jobs are not complicated, and do not require any thinking on your part. 

If you wish to advance, the company has an abundance of positions that you can move into. It is easy to set up your preferences on a computer that the company provides, and keep up to date on positions available. If you are a hard worker, and you keep your career preferences up-to-date you will get interviews to move into better positions with more responsibilities. Along with the new positions, in higher job classifications comes additional pay as well. If you choose not to move up into different classifications, and you work hard and it is reflected on your review, you are almost guaranteed to still get a good raise each year. For my store, it is a $0.40 an  hour raise. That is pretty good for not incurring any additional responsibilities, and for just meeting expectations on a performance evaluation.

Recently, the company partnered with an online university, American Public University (APU). The company and the University have worked together to develop a curriculum that will allow store level and other associates to earn credits towards an associates or bachelors degree by performing their job duties. This is an amazing program! Not only does it not limit you to a degree you can’t transfer (APU is regionally accredited), you can also use the credits towards a host of different types of degrees. Wal-Mart also offers free books for the program, and pays a grant of 15% towards the inexpensive cost of the university. The cost of APU is in-line with many in-state university tuition costs. Getting a degree, whether from APU or elsewhere will also benefit your career at Wal-Mart. If you show ambition, the company will reward you with new responsibilities. If you can secure an assistant manager position you will be propelled into a solidly middle class pay range. There are a number of assistant manager positions at each store, so if you put in the effort, and the time, and get educated you should be able to secure one of those positions. From there, the sky is the limit for pay. Store managers make a significant amount of money.

So what about benefits? Well I am amazed that anyone says they are horrible. I have worked for a number of large companies, and have never worked for a company that charges the same amount for medical premiums for part-time workers (as low as 8 hours a week) as Wal-Mart does. The premiums can be set up for your particular situation. If you want only catastrophic insurance you can get that. If you want insurance that covers a significant amount of up-front costs you can get that as well. The premiums will be higher for the latter. For me, I pay $15 a pay period and get my first $500 in medical expenses per year completely paid for, after that there is a deductible, but how many employers give there employees an up-front $500 credit to use for health care? 

I also receive the most generous 401k plan I’ve ever been a part of at Wal-Mart. The company contributions are always 100% vested, and they match dollar for dollar up to the first 6%. They used to contribute to your 401k and to profit sharing whether you contributed or not. However, the new system is even better, because you get a 6% match instead of only 4% with 2% having a vesting period.

Another great benefit is the employee discount plan. You get 10% off on a large number of items in the store. And if you are a long time associate, you get to keep your discount even after you leave the company.

Some additional benefits include quarterly bonuses for your store meeting metrics, special pay for working on Sundays, and a 15% discount on buying stock in the companies Associate  Stock Purchase Plan. I also get a 20% discount on my cell service for working at the company. 
My thoughts are that the people complaining about Wal-Mart pay and benefits are either not working at the company or have a different agenda. If you put in the hard work, and don’t lack motivation, you have a virtually unlimited potential at the company. If you are lazy, or don’t show ambition you will be stuck with low wages, but still awesome benefits!