- Business Insider spoke with six current and former Lowe's workers about what's happening within the stores. These workers cited a number of moves that they say have driven out longtime workers and eroded employees' support systems.
- Lowe's employees say the company has recently eliminated a number of specific roles, including store HR managers, assembly associates, and maintenance staff. Store workers characterized the restructuring as a milder form of layoffs.
- In its statement to Business Insider, a Lowe's spokesperson did not confirm these specific role eliminations or comment on how many employees had been affected.
- The spokesperson said the changes have been a result of the company increasing its "customer-facing employee hours as part of our strategy to better serve customers and operate our stores more efficiently."
- "When we make changes to specific roles, we make every effort to retain associates, including providing the option to apply to open positions in the company, or in many cases, offering the opportunity to transition to other roles in our stores," Lowe's said.
- Next year, Lowe's employees say, the company will also do away with its allowance, a change that affects a small group of long-term employees who earned spiffs, or an immediate sales bonus, and commission on sales before 2012. Lowe's did not confirm that it was doing away with these allowances, though Business Insider reviewed a leaked document announcing the cut.
- Employees also mentioned issues with scheduling, an emphasis on part-time positions, and turnover.
"The Hundred Days of Hell" is what Lowe's workers call the springtime rush, when do-it-yourself customers and pros alike flood the home-improvement retailer, intent on pulling out the weeds, tiling the basement, and finally building that kitchen nook.
The company hires seasonal workers to pitch in. At the end of the season, some stay on.
One such former worker, who requested anonymity for fear of retaliation, said they embarked on a seasonal gig with Lowe's in 2011. The Florida-based worker didn't have a retail background; their spouse's near-fatal illness had required them to seek out the job. Like many temporary workers, this former Lowe's employee accepted a full-time job offer at the end of the season.
They told Business Insider that, while they had initially taken the job out of necessity, they came to love working in their particular department, rising up to the role of department manager.
"I created my own family," the former employee said. "I felt like I had support at the store."
Now, eight years later, this former employee says that Lowe's has changed for the worse. They cited the eliminations of positions like loss prevention, maintenance, and assembly associates, the watering down of the role of human resources employees within the store, and a chaotic new scheduling system as factors in their decision to resign in March.
"It's the way corporate America works and we expect it, but no one likes it when it happens to them," the former employee said. Lowe's, for its part, describes the changes as part of an ongoing strategy to boost customer service.
"Over the past year, we have increased our customer-facing employee hours as part of our strategy to better serve customers and operate our stores more efficiently, and we continue to actively hire for a wide range of positions across our stores," a Lowe's spokesperson said.
Business Insider spoke with six Lowe's employees from different parts of the US about morale within stores. All but one requested anonymity for fear of retaliation. They all spoke to dwindling morale within the stores, citing the same or similar factors as those mentioned by the worker who left in March. Others spoke of a swell of part-time positions filling in gaps left by the departure of full-time workers.
Taken together, the stories these employees shared build up a picture of stores where workers feel expendable and overextended, and where the workforce is holding its collective breath awaiting the next "role elimination" announcement.
'Get rid of all of those people'
Former Lowe's employee Patricia Wilkerson started at an hourly wage of $13 when she was first hired by the company in October 2003. Within two months, the Dayton, Texas, resident was a department manager at her store in the greater Houston area. But 14 years in, Wilkerson said, that all changed.
In January 2017, Wilkerson and the rest of her store's department managers over a dozen were called behind "closed doors" and informed that Lowe's was restructuring.
Anyone who wasn't appointed to the new role of service manager would be relegated to the role of a level-five customer-service associate, a brand-new position created especially for the restructuring. A former department manager from Pennsylvania who worked for Lowe's for 15 years told Business Insider that, in their store, the newly minted CSA5s wouldn't see an immediate pay reduction. They were allowed to keep their department manager-level wages for a year while losing key-holding privileges and access to store computers.
Wilkerson said that the managers were told they'd be given the first crack at the service-manager openings. They had a choice: Opt in or opt out. She decided to leave the company in 2017.
"I opted out because they couldn't tell us how much we were going to be making in that position and they didn't tell us what the job responsibilities were," Wilkerson said.
But living on unemployment, dealing with flooding from Hurricane Harvey, and helping to care for her grandson who has cystic fibrosis, prompted Wilkerson to later return to Lowe's. She took on a part-time seasonal role, from which she was laid off this August. Today, she works with United for Respect, a worker-advocacy group.
In January 2018, Lowe's employees say, the company introduced the role of department supervisor, which they say is mostly identical to that of a department manager.
The former department manager from Pennsylvania who left in 2017 over the restructuring said Lowe's would essentially "rename" positions that serve the same functions.
"In my opinion, they did that just to get rid of all of those people who were making above $20 an hour," Wilkerson said.
Wilkerson added that, over the years, she increasingly saw the company replace what were formerly full-time positions with two to three part-time roles.
"If you have two part timers who are working normally 20 or 30 hours each a week and sales are bad, you can cut them down to 10 and nobody can say anything," Wilkerson said. "If you have two full-timers, you can't do that."
The other Lowe's employees who spoke with Business Insider said they felt that part-time roles were becoming more central at their stores as well. And they say that this strategy doesn't reflect the Lowe's they used to know.
A layoff by any other name
The Lowe's employees who spoke with Business Insider universally characterized recent role eliminations as thinly disguised layoffs foisted upon store management. A current Indiana-based administrative associate, who was hired to assist store management with tasks like payroll and scheduling, told Business Insider about speaking to their manager before the decision to eliminate maintenance and assembly staff was announced.
"He was, like, 'This week is going to be hell for me. I don't want to do this. I don't want to do what they're going to make me do,'" the administrative worker said.
"When we make changes to specific roles, we make every effort to retain associates, including providing the option to apply to open positions in the company, or in many cases, offering the opportunity to transition to other roles in our stores," a Lowe's spokesperson told Business Insider.
But the administrative worker said that the maintenance and assembly workers who had their roles terminated were barred from reapplying for a new position for at least two weeks. Those unpaid two weeks would also result in a loss of accrued vacation and sick time.
Lowe's didn't specifically respond to Business Insider's question about that two-week lag.
One employee from Kentucky whose salaried role was eliminated in 2019 told Business Insider that they opted to take a different job in the store, going from an annual salary of $50,000 to hourly wages of $15.
"It's basically a way to cost people money and save the company money," the administrative support worker said.
A Lowe's employee from Illinois said that their store lost at least three employees thanks to the most recent maintenance and assembly reshuffle.
"It's backfired," the employee said. "We don't have any assembler whatsoever covering the store. We don't have anybody coming to the store and cleaning the aisles and taking care of the floors, and the toilets that are always backed up."
The Florida-based former employee said that Lowe's frequently repeated the explanation that some of its in-store restructuring namely, cutting assembly roles was done with the goal of getting more employees on the sales floor. They said that even when their store which they said had an annual revenue of around $40 million had two assemblers, "neither guy could keep up with what needed assembling." As a result of the role elimination, the store ended up with no dedicated assembly staff.
"They're saying, 'Oh, we're going to free them up to be on the sales floor,'" the employee said. "That won't happen. That could never happen. I was continually always pulling people off of the floor to help build and assemble."
One other role that got the ax in 2019 was that of loss prevention, which was rebranded as asset protection. One former loss-prevention employee in Kentucky said that loss-prevention associates were given only 28 days to look for other employment opportunities, while HR managers were given a year. They added that, when the new asset-protection roles "no interviews were conducted, they were all pre-selected," leaving former loss-prevention employees with "no opportunities to apply or be considered" for specific roles.
"There's just all these positions that are renamed the under different names," the former department manager from Pennsylvania told Business Insider.
Lowe's did not respond to Business Insider's question about the differences between department managers and department supervisors.
'You fumble your way through it'
Lowe's employees tell Business Insider that the issue isn't simply that certain roles were eliminated. What these workers describe as increased turnover, a proliferation of part-time roles, and the loss of long-timers with a wealth of knowledge in their specific department has also resulted in interdepartmental chaos.
An employee from Illinois said that when they started in 2009, each department in the store had a team of three to four employees.
"Now, at times, there's nobody in the department whatsoever," the employee said. "So when you hear a call button go off, you're supposed to drop whatever you're doing and run over to another department to take care of a customer. It's just a mess. I don't see it getting any better."
And the issue isn't just staffing. The employee from Illinois added that workers previously could spend years accruing knowledge. The employee said that, by losing experienced employees, failing to offer proper training, and pushing workers to respond to calls in unfamiliar departments, the quality of customer experience had eroded in their store.
"It seems like they're just bringing in people that are order-takers," the employee said. "And then I'm going over to plumbing with no knowledge of the products, and trying to sell it. You fumble your way through it. We're losing a lot of customers because of that."
In the case of in-store human-resources managers, the role eliminations were heralded by a countdown clock on Lowe's internal system. The "Countdown to the new HR!" clock ticked down the days, hours, and minutes left until the changes. It wasn't popular online, with Reddit users calling it " in poor taste " and deserving of " bad PR ."
One former Lowe's employee from Kentucky said that human-resources managers were first informed that their roles were being eliminated in 2018. They were "given one year to look for other positions," within Lowe's or outside the company.
The employee said that the HR managers were set to be replaced with a new role, and duties like hiring were pushed off to store management and a third-party hiring firm. Lowe's went on to create new positions like talent-acquisition partners and area HR business partners. Four Lowe's employees told Business Insider that former HR managers who stuck with the company typically flocked to those roles.
But, in some stores, the responsibilities held by those HR-adjacent workers aren't so clearly defined. One administrative store employee told Business Insider that they signed on for a job with duties like scheduling workers and helping store management with staffing and training. Today, they said they are often called away to pitch in at the cash registers, work the customer-service desk, and even lend a hand on the sales floor.
"Some managers are taking advantage of the ASAs and having them doing things way out of scope of our job description," the administrative employee said. "We are team players. We were hired to be team players, but this is being abused a little bit. They're just completely disregarding the job description."
The Florida-based employee characterized the new roles as intended to "serve store interests" rather than employees. They said that they felt they "things would've gone differently for me" had their "terrific" HR manager still been his role.
"He still goes to that store because he lives near the location," the employee said. "There's still a line of employees to see him. The system is so broken. People are coming to him for advice. It is crazy."
'From a "me" to a "we" approach'
Under former CEO Rob Niblock, Lowe's opted to eliminate its commissions and spiffs an immediate sales bonus that went to store sales specialists in departments like windows, doors, and millwork.
Business Insider received two copies of the 2012 announcement, in which the company announced it was scrapping spiffs in favor of what Lowe's called "a more collaborative, team-based 'we' approach.'"
"Effective Saturday, February 11th, we are eliminating all SPIFFs and commissions from our compensation plans," the February 8, 2012, notice reads. "We are replacing a portion of this income with an adjustment in affected employees' pay equivalent to 50% of their 2011 earnings received from SPIFFs and commissions" for paychecks between January 28, 2011, and January 13, 2012.
Affected employees were entitled to that allowance in the years since 2012. That will come to an end on February 1, 2020, employees tell Business Insider.
Business Insider also reviewed a letter sent to an allowance-eligible worker announcing the cancellation.
An employee who has worked for Lowe's in Illinois for 10 years told Business Insider that they were looking for a new job, in part because of the financial strain that the loss of the allowance would bring about.
They said that the issue of the canceled allowances didn't affect the vast majority of store workers, but it did hurt the employees who have been with the company for a long time.
"They told all the managers that they were to tell all the people that get the allowance, to give them time to find another job if they want to," the Illinois-based employee told Business Insider. "If they need to move on."
'Too busy to feel anything'
"We value our more than 300,000 associates for their hard work and commitment to serving customers," a Lowe's spokesperson said in a statement to Business Insider.
But the Lowe's employees who Business Insider spoke with say that these changes have left them feeling like nonessential players in a company where they once thought they'd have room to grow professionally.
And within the stores, the day-to-day can be stressful.
"People are too busy to feel anything," Wilkerson said, regarding morale.
And employees say that this atmosphere is eroding workforces at different stores.
"A lot of customers are doing do-it-yourself now, but they still have questions," the Illinois-based employee said. "If I leave Lowe's, they're not going to come here, because they trust me."
The Indiana-based administrative employee who spoke with Business Insider also said they were looking for a job elsewhere, and they are aware of many employees taking similar steps, including ones who have been with the store since it opened.
"These were people who looked forward to seeing each other every day," the administrative employee said. "They don't want to come to work anymore. They don't feel like Lowe's is behind them anymore."
The Florida-based employee who left the store in 2019 said that they ran into a former HR manager, who had since been moved to another HR-adjacent role in the store.
"She said they put her at a little foldout table, outside the bigger room where we used to do meetings," the former employee said. "She's had a tough time."
Read Lowe's entire statement:
"Over the past year, we have increased our customer-facing employee hours as part of our strategy to better serve customers and operate our stores more efficiently, and we continue to actively hire for a wide range of positions across our stores. When we make changes to specific roles, we make every effort to retain associates, including providing the option to apply to open positions in the company, or in many cases, offering the opportunity to transition to other roles in our stores. We value our more than 300,000 associates for their hard work and commitment to serving customers."
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