Wal-Mart Social Responsibility Analysis: An Employee Perspective
To begin the study "the purpose statement is "a statement that provides the major objective or intent, or "road map" to the study" (Creswell, 2009a, 104).Therefore, the purpose of this narrative is to discuss what employees at various Wal-Mart facilities around the Kansas City area have experienced regarding the social responsibility initiatives undertaken by the company. The method for this particular paper is a qualitative design. Because the desired conclusions were to be drawn from the specific experiences of individuals employed at Wal-Mart stores and Distribution Centers around the area, it was determined that the best method of gathering that information was via interviews with employees rather than the gathering of quantitative data which would not reveal individual interpretations of the policies put in place. The specific questions asked to the participants ranged from their impressions of environmental policies to treatment of employees within the company. Since the employees have a unique perspective with regard to the accomplishments of the company in this regard, it seemed necessary to make them the focus of the study. Also, line employees were chosen for the research, as supervisory personnel may be more biased in the answers given. It is hoped that this research will contribute significantly to like studies which can be accomplished in other areas of the country and compared to see the actual overall temper of the company. The author of the study hopes to determine if the latest literature, which almost exclusively lists Wal-Mart as a very responsible company after years of being degraded by media and watch groups, has actually changed for the better or if this is an illusion concocted by the company itself.
Nature of the Study
The method of a study must meet different criteria based upon the type of study it is. This means that since qualitative, quantitative or mixed methods designs have specific components, they must be selected with care. As Maxwell (2005) says "a good design, one in which the components work harmoniously together, promoted efficient and successful functioning: a flawed design leads to poor operation or failure." This basically means that the way a study is to be conducted has the greatest bearing on what type of study it will be.
Realizing that, it must first be said that "Often the distinction between qualitative and quantitative research is framed in the terms of using words (qualitative) rather than numbers (quantitative)" (Creswell, 2009b, 3). A quantitative study necessarily has the component of numbers analysis (statistical analysis) because of the word used to describe the type of study. Quantitative studies deal with large groups of data from which specific, relatively concrete conclusions can be reached (Maxwell, 2005, 18). Qualitative studies are more subjective in nature. Although research questions can be asked in such a way as to get at specific response types, people and not number are the focus. Creswell (2009b, 3) states, "The selection of a research design is also based on the nature of the research problem or issue being addressed." According to Merriam (2009, 1);
"Having an interest in knowing more about one's practice, and indeed improving one's practice, leads to asking researchable questions, some of which are best approached through a qualitative research design. In fact I believe that research focused on discovery, insight, and understanding from the perspective of those being studied offers the greatest promise of making a difference in people's lives."
More than for any other reason, this particular study is qualitative because the goal is to seek the actual responses of known employees. This method of research has a greater personal impact on the people reading the words than a quantitative method which can be very impersonal.
This study examines how individual line employees at Wal-Mart stores and Distribution Facilities view the socially responsible actions the parent company has taken with regard to environmental sustainability and improving the work setting of its employees.
An organization is necessarily a system with many different components that make it either successful, or failing, make it defunct. The people within the organization make up one large system, but there are also those outside (such as customers) who are affected, and, for a company as large as Wal-Mart, pretty much all of society is affected by the company in some way. The systems that Wal-Mart affects also include the financial systems of many communities, regions and nations. Environment yet another system that is affected by a large, multinational company such as Wal-Mart. For these reasons, the approach that was used to develop this study was from a general systems theory.
It must first be understood that the goal of systems theory is "to understand man and his environment as part of interacting systems" (Skyttner, 2005, 3). This basically reiterates exactly what was mentioned above in relation to the company which is the primary focus of this study. Wal-Mart has a great effect on human environment, especially as regards its employees in the two areas mentioned in the research question. Interestingly, when talking about corporate organizational systems, Skyttner (2005, 358) said a few words about the exact topic to be considered herein, namely that "human rights and ecological matters are seldom considered beyond the responsibility to improve the efficiency of organizations" (Skyttner, 2005, 358). The fact that corporations are faceless and emotionless, and that there only motivation is the bottom line of the company, has been postulated as infinitum. However, the goal of the research is to see if the overriding Wal-Mart system seems impersonal and strictly corporate, or otherwise in the eyes of its employees.
Definition of Terms
This section is specifically designed to make sure that there is no misinterpretation of the terms to be employed. Two terms that are specifically important to this study must not be misunderstood if the study is to have credibility. The phrases line employee and social responsibility.
Line Employee: Many firms will term these employees non-exempt, meaning that they are hourly rather than salaried (. Generally salaried employees have some type of administrative or supervisory capacity, and those types of employees were not desirable for this project.
Social Responsibility: "Occurs when a retailer acts in the best interests of society -- as well as itself. The challenge is to balance corporate citizenship with a fair level of profits" (Prentice Hall, 2011). This definition includes the company's responsibility both to its employees and the all-inclusive world outside of the company walls.
Assumptions, Limitations and Delimitations
Any study which incorporates, for a large part of the data, self-report or interview data contains some issues with credibility. The major assumption for this study was that gross data was not sufficient to adequately understand the impressions of Wal-Mart employees regarding their employer. The reason large amounts of collected data was not desired was because people either feel constrained, or are actually constrained, to give a more positive view of the company than would otherwise be given. Unfortunately, this assumption does carry with it the limitations imposed by asking for opinion.
Another limitation that is common to qualitative studies is that the sample size of employee participants is small. Because the interviews have to be tabulated and data extracted from the, sometimes, wandering narratives, it would be too time intensive to include more than 12 to 15 people in the study. This small sample size will not necessarily account for the breadth of opinions with in an area as large as Kansas City, but it will definitely not be able to translate into any broad generalities among the many thousands of line employees that work for Wal-Mart. This is a pilot study that accepts that there are limitations inherent in the design.
That being said, the scope of the study is the three stores and one Distribution Plant from which the sample was garnered. Some inferences can be made that may translate to the company at large, but they will not be made within this present study.
Significance of the Study
There are two areas contained in this section of the study: the reduction of gaps that have existed in the research, and the implications for social change. The gap in the research is that line employees are very rarely included in the research into anything which speaks to the supposed social responsibility of a company. Therefore, the gap which this study begins to fill is the one in which the importance of the opinions of the regular, line employees has been ignored. As for the second condition of significance, the entire reason for undertaking this effort is to exact some form of social change if it is needed. These types of employees constitute the majority of Wal-Mart's workforce. Thus, this study will give a small glimpse of the minds of the majority of Wal-Mart employees with regard to the company's social responsibility to themselves and the environment.
This review is intended to give a view of what has been written on Wal-Mart's past and present…