Target Offering In-Store Social Workers For Some Employees

Two days a week, the employees at the Target store in Compton, CA, have access to something many of us could probably use: a social worker.

When Target opened up its Compton location a few years ago, managers had trouble dealing with a largely inexperienced staff who had more pressing concerns than stocking new sheets in the linens section.

“There was domestic violence, teenage pregnancy. We’ve had situations where team members were homeless and living in their cars but still coming to work,” said the store’s head of human resources to the L.A. Times. “More than half of my day was dealing with team member concerns — ‘What should I do, where should I go?’ They needed someone to talk to, someone who would listen.”

And so Target decided to bring in a social worker who could offer staffers a place to vent or to come to for advice on anything from family problems to advice on buying a home or adopting a baby.

The Compton store was only the second Target to have a social worker. In just a few years, that number has expanded to 69 stores. And the results are showing. Branches with social workers have reported a 17% average improvement in employee attendance scores in 2009 compared with the previous year.

Is this something that more companies — especially large retailers and manufacturers — should be offering to employees? And do you think it could have any positive effect on the customer’s shopping experience?

Target in Compton helps store employees tackle their personal problems [L.A. Times]

Comments

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  1. George4478 says:

    What happens if the social worker runs into the surly anti-social worker? Will the universe be destroyed?

  2. Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

    Compton Target has a social worker? I can’t imagine why in the world they would need such a thing. ;3

  3. mister_roboto says:

    I dunno- Target is the sort of place where to reward you they add the word “manager” to your job title, while you still are left to clean up baby vomit, because the guy next to you is also a “manager.”

    • CTrees says:

      Nononono – the terms are “specialist” or “team lead” or at the extreme end, “executive.” All of which were still cleaning up the vomit.

      Glad I left…

  4. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    The post’s tag needs to be “Straight Outta Compton.”

  5. bstewart says:

    I think having reliable employees will ultimately make a business more profitable. Everyone comes into work, the shelves get stocked, the public realizes “this Target almost always has what I need”, so people shop there with more frequency- thus increasing the profit margin. I was homeless and pregnant when I worked at a Target a few years ago. My Team Leaders were very understanding and supportive and that encouraged me to keep coming to work. If it takes a social worker to help, hire a slew of them.

    • bstewart says:

      Sorry for the double post. :(

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      I agree. People have a hard enough time keeping personal and professional separate; add to that poverty, homelessness, teenage pregnancy, medical problems, malnutrition, or any other maladies that plague a large, impoverished population in a place like Compton. One can imagine the difficulty in to restocking shelves full of food you can’t even afford, and how impossible it would be to block out your hunger.

    • jesusofcool says:

      Agreed. I can’t think of any context where this could be anything but a positive step in the right direction.

  6. bstewart says:

    I think having reliable employees will ultimately make a business more profitable. Everyone comes into work, the shelves get stocked, the public realizes “this Target almost always has what I need”, so people shop there with more frequency- thus increasing the profit margin. I was homeless and pregnant when I worked at a Target a few years ago. My Team Leaders were very understanding and supportive and that encouraged me to keep coming to work. If it takes a social worker to help, hire a slew of them.

  7. Hi_Hello says:

    that’ cool.

  8. jesirose says:

    I think it’s a great idea. I definitely think they should be helping the employees who are A. still coming to work despite their problems, B. seeking help for those problems.

    It’s like a school counselor, but for work. For a retail store, I think this is a great idea.

  9. stock2mal says:

    If Target paid their employees a living wage, they wouldn’t need a social worker.

    • JulesNoctambule says:

      A living wage magically erases all personal problems and unexpected tragedies? Well, damn! Who knew?

    • jesirose says:

      Because money solves domestic violence.

      Target pays decently. If they paid each employee more, they’d have to raise prices, or hire less employees. You’d rather they let people go? If so, that’s fine…but where will those people go work? If someone is homeless and working at target, they’re not homeless BECAUSE of target. They’re homeless, and have SOME income now.

      Not to mention, most Americans are a paycheck from homeless. Do you have a couple months rent saved up? I know people who make way more than what Target pays – but as soon as they lost their job, or a paycheck got lost in the mail, they missed rent/mortgage. You miss ONE rent payment, you can get evicted. It’s happened to people I know. When it happened to ME, I sure could have used someone at work helping me out. (Well, they did, they gave me more hours and a raise, because I’d proven myself to be a good worker. But advice would have been appreciated.)

    • DanRydell says:

      Low-end retail stores should not be viewed as a suitable long-term place of employment by adults who need to support themselves. I’m GLAD Target doesn’t pay their employees more, because they shouldn’t be content to work at Target.

      I understand that some people don’t have better options in this economy, but Target didn’t fuck up the economy.

      • msbask says:

        This. Times a million.

      • stock2mal says:

        Retail stores like Target are able to rake in obscene profits because they pay extremely low wages. I completely agree that people should strive to make more and get out retail, but for those who are stuck in it, or even those working in it temporarily, they should be paid a wage that enables them to support themselves. It would be a different story if stores like Target and Walmart weren’t extremely profitable, but they are able to rake in these profits because they take advantage of workers and drive down wages.

        • Bsamm09 says:

          According to last filing, they have a profit margin of 4.22%. You consider that “obscene”? I guess we have differing opinions on that word.

          • Bunnies Attack! says:

            If you look at their 2010 10k cash flow statement, its actually a touch over 10%… unless you’re including depreciation and amortization which are “fake” numbers and don’t actually impact their cash flow.

            • Bunnies Attack! says:

              Oh, and their gross margin is actually 30%, then they spend 20% on advertising and general administration, with the remaining 10% as profit.

              • obits3 says:

                “depreciation and amortization which are “fake” numbers and don’t actually impact their cash flow.”

                Be very careful. You are switching accounting systems in the middle of your analysis. These are NOT “fake” numbers. For example, in accrual accounting you buy an asset with a 10 year life for $1,000 using a 8 year bank note (no interest for this example). Here is what will happen:

                Cash Basis: You show cash outflows of $125 a year for 8 years.
                Accrual Basis: You show a $100 expense each year for 10 years.

                Total expense is still $1,000. If you are going to “add back” the depreciation, then you need to subtract the cash out flow because it would not be in the accrual income statement.

          • stock2mal says:

            4.22% of what exactly? Just because the percentage was low doesn’t mean their profits weren’t obscene, especially when it was a bunch of underpaid workers who made it all possible in the first place. A 4.22% profit margin is a totally different thing for a multi-million dollar corporation and a 3 man operation working out of a rented office.

    • fs2k2isfun says:

      Yes, because being paid more money means all your other problems suddenly disappear.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        It doesn’t make them go away but there’s definitely a correlation between poverty and just about every social problem index.

        When I was in high school, it was very common for those who didn’t want to go to college to get a job down at “the mill” (US Steel). It was definitely tough work but provided very solid benefits and paid enough to support a family. Those jobs are long gone and they’ve been replaced with Wal-Mart, Target, and welfare. Not surprisingly, my hometown and neighborhood have gone to hell in the past ~ 30+ years, just like countless other towns all over the country.

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Money is definitely not the sole solution here. Many social workers help with life education like helping teenage mothers and fathers understand the basics of selecting baby formula, changing a diaper, and helping them enroll in classes to furtheir their education which has most likely been derailed by the pregnancy. Social workers help adults who may not have a lot of education understand basic things like organizing a schedule, balancing a checkbook, getting a cell phone, and help them balance home life and work life.

      • Firethorn says:

        Bingo. I’m also reminded of the saying ‘It’s expensive to be poor’.

        You can make it on minimum wage; but you have to be fiscally disciplined. Guess what many/most who are so unskilled as to be making minimum wage aren’t?

  10. backinpgh says:

    Unless you’re gay, then you aren’t eligible. Right?

  11. humphrmi says:

    Years ago offices of big companies had social workers too. Employees run into all kinds of situations, big and small. From things like “I don’t know what to do about this…” to heavier topics like a death in the family, they helped improve employees home lives which made them better workers.

    But then the lawyers and number crunchers came, and companies outsourced all this to professional counseling services that allows them to just pay a flat fee and call it mental health coverage or some such. And of course, it’s no longer on site, so employees have to take time off to see the counselors. Which kind of defeats the whole purpose.

    • Squard says:

      There is A LOT to be said about “Private Run” vs “Government Run” services here.
      On one hand: I’m an admitted lefty and my sister is a social worker having a tough time working for a hospital through an out-sourced system.
      On the other hand: I’m really glad this is being done.

      Best left for another forum: Really not trying to start a flame war here.

  12. Liarbyrd says:

    As a social worker myself, I applaud this move by Target.

  13. lovemypets00 - You'll need to forgive me, my social filter has cracked. says:

    “We’ve had situations where team members were homeless and living in their cars but still coming to work.”

    How sad it is to have a job and still not be able to put a roof over your head.

    • Marlin says:

      But but other posters say target pays well. ;-)

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      Poor financial management could be a factor.

    • catastrophegirl chooses not to fly says:

      when i worked in fast food i had a manager who hired homeless guys all the time. as he said, they had more incentive to be reliable, like access to a clean bathroom with a door that locked, and being able to be in controlled temperatures all day.
      it worked too. many of them ended up managing to save up and get a place or find a roommate through coworkers.
      a friend of mine got off the streets that way. he’d wash himself up before and after shift in the sink in the bathroom, got to buy two meals a day at half price and felt a sense of accomplishment.

  14. Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

    Companies treating its employees like human beings improves morale? Amazing!

  15. Hoss says:

    This isn’t unusual. In HR terms it’s offered as EAP — Employee Assistance Program

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      In a corporate environment it might not be unusual. Target headquarters probably has this for its employees, but I think it’s quite unusual for Target to employ social workers for the store employees themselves. Most stores don’t care about their employees that much considering the high level of turnover and relatively small amount of pay. I’m glad Target is being proactive.

      • Hoss says:

        Yup. Private counseling is very cheap, and in return they develop staff that will be loyal and thankful, reducing turnover costs

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      It seems like there’s the potential for some major conflicts of interest. I learned long ago that HR is definitely no friend of the little guy.

      • Brunette Bookworm says:

        Most of the EAPs are offered by an outside company, not HR, and HR doesn’t know who uses it and why.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          That’s good. It creeps me out that HR has access to my complete medical history where I work. I would hate for them to have access to counseling records too.

  16. golddog says:

    Really? The managers had trouble dealing with a largely inexperienced staff who have domestic violence and teen pregnancy problems; situations where team members were homeless and living in their cars but still coming to work…

    “and so Target decided to bring in a social worker who could offer staffers a place to vent or to come to for advice on anything from family problems to advice on buying a home or adopting a baby.”

    Maybe the social worker could do an inservice for Target’s managers on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

    As a side note, if you’re going to the Target social worker for answers to life’s day to day boggles, I can’t emphasize enough, do NOT acquire a baby by any means.

    • golddog says:

      Having made that snarky comment about Target’s managers wanting to help homeless teens figure out how to adopt a baby to live in the car with them and buy a house to park their car-home at, props to Target in general for setting up an EAP. Presumably a qualified MSW, once set loose will run the program right.

      • crunchberries says:

        Snarky? No, snark is funny. What you said was ignorant, privileged, and cruel. I hope that if you’re ever in a position where you need a social worker, you reconsider your comments.

        • golddog says:

          Yikes people are sensitive this morning. Actually the definition of snarky doesn’t include funny; it does include testy, irritable, to find fault with, and short – which is what I was in my original post.

          For the record, I think what Target is doing in setting up this EAP program is a great thing that will help employees who – from the sounds of the article – are in many cases barely hanging on. I’m sure that in reality, the program is not going to help an employee who is living in their car figure out how to adopt a baby.

          But that is kind of how the article read and that’s all I was trying to point out. I’m intimately familiar with the social services safety net, or lack thereof in far too many cases, and regret that my attempt to cast a satirical eye at Target and that explanation of the program in the article came across as an insult their employees in need.

    • jesirose says:

      So when they do something that could HELP their gay employees, people still don’t like them? :-P

      • golddog says:

        See I was too quick to judge…had this program been in place last summer, the social worker could have helped CEO Gregg Steinhafel make a pros and cons list for his PAC contribution options :-)

    • Hoss says:

      As a supporter of various woman’s shelters and domestic violence centers, I can’t tell you how cruel your comment is to victims

      • golddog says:

        Hoss that definitely wasn’t the intent but obviously the impact came across differently. I’m not sure if you mean the entire comment or that last line. I was generally pointing out the contradiction of what the Target managers said they were dealing with (safety net issues) versus what they proposed their employees might use the social worker for – very high level and intentional things that can only be carried out by persons in a very secure place in their life like buying a house or adopting a child.

        If your comment was referencing that last line, the original article didn’t reference DV issues so it wasn’t top of mind as I wrote it. Certainly the “by any means” part wasn’t meant to apply to someone who is in a situation where “family planning” isn’t exactly under their control. It was a more general call back to the somewhat absurd contradictions noted above.

  17. Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

    I wonder if Target is helping their employees sign up for government programs. Given the low wages and maximizing a part time work force to avoid paying benefits, I can only imagine a very large percentage of employees are on Medicaid, food stamps, WIC, Section 8, etc.

    Wal-Mart got a lot of bad press for “encouraging” employees to sign up for Medicaid. I can’t imagine their policies are all that different than at Target.

    • bstewart says:

      When I hired in at Target, I was discouraged from even joining a union. And many of my Team Leaders weren’t happy about the implementation of taking EBT cards- food stamps. I don’t know if that was company policy, but isn’t Target the Anti-Walmart anyway?

      • Outrun1986 says:

        Target is like that here, they probably have the youngest and best looking workforce however they have a small group of grown adult employees. Kmart has the drones who are obviously in it for life, should they be uprooted they would probably slip to the barrens of society, Kmart is the most depressing retail store in terms of employee morale. Walmart is just walmart, mix of young and old, there are obviously some lifers in there, most are probably so desperate to keep their job that they wouldn’t dare try to leave.

        • baquwards says:

          I’ve noticed the same thing here. It’s weird how Target seems to have the more attractive, clean cut workforce, Kmart has the least motivated, sloppy miserable workforce, and Walmart the more simple country folks. They all pay pretty much the same.

    • DanRydell says:

      At my local Target I’ve noticed a small group of adults who have worked there for many years, but most of their staff is students. My local Walmart appears to have a greater proportion of employees who would need to support themselves, along with the disabled (mentally or physically) and geriatrics that Walmart likes to hire.

  18. Combat Medic says:

    I was just in that store last week for Jury Duty, and to be quite honest, the employees at that location where way more helpful than the ones in “higher-class” locations. Maybe all targets needs a social worker.

  19. evilpete says:

    What stores that witness customers to being trampled on black fridays

  20. The Moar You Know says:

    “I wonder if Target is helping their employees sign up for government programs.”

    kb01 nailed it. Just like WalMart, this is what Target is doing. U.S. taxpayers subsidizing Target’s profit margins by keeping them in cheap labor. When are we going to wake up and start seeing the minimum wage scam for what it is – taxpayers helping to keep labor costs down and profits up for large corporations?

    Pay these people a living wage, let Target’s earning take the hit, and get them off my tax bill.

    • jesdynf says:

      Or you can accept that America is a free market, and that Target is going to externalize every cost it can, because that’s what agents in markets DO. You could instead control the manner in which Target externalizes that cost… by providing a public health-care option.

      (No, I don’t work in Target. Yes, I’ll definitely be one of the people paying for it.)

    • pecan 3.14159265 says:

      How much do you think Target’s workers should be making? I’m serious. People toss around “living wage” but are not likely to support the idea if it meant that a Target worker made the same amount of money the average college-educated worker makes. There have been experiments that show when cities provide a home, a vehicle, and job training for homeless people, the rate drops significantly because the homeless aren’t likely to return to being homeless. But the programs almost always fail in the end because the taxpayers get upset that the homeless people are getting “handouts” when the taxpayers foot the bill.

      It’s understandable. When people toss around “living wage” most of those people are probably not nearly as inclined to back up their statements when they realize that “living wage” means these employees would get paid nearly as much as a middle class, college educated person in an entry level job.

      This is really interesting: http://www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu/places/0603715044

      • msbask says:

        I’m glad you asked this, because the first people throwing around the words “living wage” are the people who would start shopping elsewhere when Target raised the price of a box of diapers from $15 to $30 to keep all of their stockboys, cashiers and maintenance staff in a “living wage”.

        Jobs at Target (Walmart, Sears, the stationary store down the block, the fruit stand on the corner, the entry level clerical job at any office) should never be looked at as a permanent job for any adult. These should be stepping stones. I realize that for a lot of people this just isn’t true and being a Target cashier is as far as they’ll go. But that really isn’t Target’s fault.

        • pecan 3.14159265 says:

          Some of my friends in college burned out because their parents never instilled in them the hunger for education. They ended up doing the same kinds of work their parents did because it was “good enough” – I’m glad Target is providing these workers some incentive to work beyond their present life circumstances, and to teach them the confidence to do things on their own. Perhaps many of these people will be a good example to their children, who will have a brighter future.

        • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

          “I’m glad you asked this, because the first people throwing around the words “living wage” are the people who would start shopping elsewhere when Target raised the price of a box of diapers from $15 to $30 to keep all of their stockboys, cashiers and maintenance staff in a “living wage”.”

          To an extent, I do agree.

          The problem is, people who work retail often wind up on various forms of government assistance (EITC, food stamps, Medicaid, etc.). It’s not a secret, we all know it happens. To make up for low wages and lack of benefits, the taxpayers have to foot the bill to indirectly subsidize these large employers.

          I’d much rather have companies like Target pay their employees and provide enough benefits that the government doesn’t have to kick in the difference for their food, rent and health care. I can’t remember the source but I read years ago that Medicaid provides more coverage to Wal Mart employees than does Wal Mart’s own insurance carrier. This isn’t a good thing.

          • msbask says:

            But who decides how much someone needs to live?

            An 18-year old just out of high school and living at home might actually be able to make due making $15k a year working full-time at Target. A 35-year old married man with 4 kids would not.

            • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

              “But who decides how much someone needs to live?

              An 18-year old just out of high school and living at home might actually be able to make due making $15k a year working full-time at Target. A 35-year old married man with 4 kids would not.”

              In those two scenarios, if they both worked at Target and got paid the same salary, the taxpayers would likely contribute money to subsidize the 35-year old. In that situation, the government would decide how much somebody would need to live and would pay the difference.

              • msbask says:

                The point is that the 35-year old with a bunch of kids has no business working at Target and expecting to make a “living wage”.

                I didn’t keep the paper route I had when I was 12 and expect that that job would support me (and my family) for the rest of my life.

      • Bsamm09 says:

        If we raised the minimum wage to a “Living wage”, it wouldn’t be a living wage for long. prices would shoot up and ultimately the middle class will lose out. Their wages wont rise as quick as the minimum wage workers do, so they end up making almost the same while paying higher prices.

  21. pinkbunnyslippers says:

    Compton-Ass Target!

  22. jonspoke says:

    A lot of university employers do this too. At my job they call it the “Employee Assistance Program.” Instead of social workers they have masters level psychologists. One difference is that my university contracts out this work so that there is no conflict of interest in terms of an employee being seen by a colleague.

  23. JiminyChristmas says:

    In Minneapolis, there is one Target store (well, at least one) that many refer to as Targhetto. Tell someone you’re going to Target and that could be any one of dozens of places. Tell someone you’re going to the Targhetto and they know exactly where you are talking about.

    That said, I’ve never been to Compton but I imagine that it makes the Minneapolis Targhetto neighborhood look positively upscale.

  24. Kconafly says:

    We’ve cut the budget for most social programs in the mistaken belief that they were a drain on our economy, only to realize that yes, they were needed because people had problems. Now business has to step in to pick up the slack.

    • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

      A major part of a social worker’s job (my wife is one) is to put their clients in touch with the appropriate government agency to help them, whether it be with health care, food stamps, housing, etc.

      It would be ironic if a Target social worker has to sign their employees up for government assistance because their company goes out of the way to deny full time status or a wage that allows for self sufficiency. Plus, it’s better for their bottom line to maximize the number of expensive-to-insure who sign up for Medicaid vs. their own PPO.

  25. Press1forDialTone says:

    God knows there are plenty of state government social workers
    in CA out of work after “I’ll be back” axed their jobs. I wonder if we
    need social workers to oversee the social workers who are out of
    work.

  26. Jerem43 says:

    My wife worked in a call center for PNC Financial Services in their Westborough, MA location. They had a social worker on hand because customers would vent their anger at the CSRs because there 401k were in freefall. There were times when my wife would come home crying because the way she was treated by the public, it was worst when at the height of the recession.

  27. mike says:

    I see this as beneficial overall, however have some privacy concerns.

    Usually, if the company is paying for a counsellor, they may not have privilige like you would at a doctors office. This is because the company wants to make sure they are getting their money’s worth. Not all are like this, but it’s important to check with both HR and the counsellor to make sure what you say doesn’t get you canned.

    • gman863 says:

      “…it’s important to check with both HR and the counsellor to make sure what you say doesn’t get you canned.

      No offense, but those are the worst people to ask! Calling HR and asking “Can I tell you something very personal without getting canned?” is about as subtle as waving a red flag at a bull. If anything, it will make them more interested in your personal life and thoughts.

      There are only three legally secret relationships outside of family or marriage: Doctor-Patient, Attorney-Client and what is said in a to a Priest during Confession (The Seal of the Confessional). Even the doctor-patient one is suspect: If your employer requires a physical exam or other medical services, they usually make you sign a consent form allowing them to receive a report from the doctor or clinic.

      • Nigerian prince looking for business partner says:

        “Even the doctor-patient one is suspect: If your employer requires a physical exam or other medical services, they usually make you sign a consent form allowing them to receive a report from the doctor or clinic.”

        Absolutely! HR also has access to any paperwork used when putting insurance policies out to bid. At my office, HR has access to my family’s entire medical history.

        • gman863 says:

          Damn. I never thought of this loophole. Although the doctor’s notes may be off limits based on HIPPA regulations, the insurance claims (complete with the daignosis codes used in billing) may not be.

          Maybe it’s time to start slipping the doctor an extra $20 in the exam room to be sure every bill is coded for “common cold”.

  28. FrugalFreak says:

    Unemployed workers need these most! My sister is unemployed and not sure where to turn, what to do, etc… A person that knew agencies, connections for those unaware this would put many back to work. When you leave USPS because of Mental Illness exactly where do you go? Tried Vocational rehab, no contact, filed for disability, no answer. Assigning a person seems ideal.

    • lefty_redhead says:

      Possible help:
      File for unemployment compensation. There’s lots of misinformation out there about who qualifies, and some agencies function more as job searching centers than others. It varies widely by state.

      Contact the local mental health program run by the county/city/state. They’re likely overwhelmed, but that’s forced them to become much better at referring to other possible places to help.

      Look for the local Workforce Investment Act program in the area. It’s also known as the One-Stop Job Center. The one in my area has reps from vocational rehab, veterans’ assistance, youth work programs, schools and training providers, and provides space for employers to do onsite interviewing for free. They run free workshops on resume-writing, interviewing, etc.

      My county publishes an annual guide to services. It’s full of all kinds of information I never knew, and I’ve lived in basically the same place my whole life. Even USPS HR might be able to point her in the right direction.