BENTONVILLE, Ark. — In recent years, Walmart has recognized the importance of its associates to the company’s present and future success, adopting policies that address a host of issues ranging from career opportunities to financial well-being to health care, to mention just a few. As chief people officer, Donna Morris plays a critical role in understanding and responding effectively to the needs of Walmart’s 1.6 million associates in the United States.
Morris joined Walmart in her current role in 2020, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was creating a huge wave of new challenges to the way the world’s largest retailer engages with its workforce. One of her key responsibilities is attracting, retaining and fostering talent, a vital prerequisite to achieving sustained, long-term growth. One of the company’s latest initiatives in this area is Manager Academy, a weeklong training course designed to foster leadership skills and inculcate Walmart’s culture and values.
While many of the participants had the knowledge of retailing and the customer service skills to succeed, a Walmart store manager is responsible for a multimillion-dollar business with hundreds of employees, one that invariably plays a significant role in the communities it serves. That requires another level of leadership skills, and the training program was so successful that Walmart has decided to have all of its store, club and supply chain managers, even those with decades of experience, go through the program. More than 2,000 are expected to participate during the course of this year.
Not surprisingly, a special focus of the training program is managing people, particularly leading with empathy and awareness of associate well-being. Importantly, the program also enables participants to embrace change and to lead “with a change mindset.”
The pandemic created a host of stresses that underlined the importance of mental health as part of individual well-being. Walmart recently unveiled a new “Workplace Mental Health Course” that focuses on teaching its leaders and managers how to help associates and colleagues struggling with behavioral health issues.
In addition, in May — which is Mental Health Awareness Month — Walmart announced enhancements to its mental health programs for all associates and their families in the U.S. In addition to the course for leaders, the program doubles the amount of free therapy and counseling sessions available to associates and their families. Walmart also has mental health professionals who proactively contact associates to provide support and an early connection to care. Finally, associates have unlimited access to Web and app-based tools to find the support they need, when they need it.
These efforts on associates’ behalf are bearing fruit. Last month, Walmart and Sam’s Club were officially certified as “Great Places to Work” by Great Place to Work, an industry leader in workplace excellence that ranks companies based on data from millions of employee engagement surveys. The results, while satisfying, will not lead to complacency.
“Over the next few weeks we’ll analyze the data from this survey and take action on our areas of improvement so we can continue to get better year after year,” Morris wrote in a note on the company website.