Costco Isn’t “Nice Walmart”

Photo: Costco

Photo: Costco

Costco seems to be a Fortune 100 company that’s figured out how to treat its employees well.

They give employees national holidays off and pay above minimum wage, all while charging comparable prices and serving great pizza. Because of this, Costco has developed a reputation as being the “woke” alternative to Walmart’s Sam’s Club.

As outsiders, our enthusiasm about Costco’s work environment isn’t necessarily a reflection of what the employees are experiencing. Stacey Hampton* was one person who spoke to me about her experiences.

When Stacey Hampton talks to people about what her job entails, she is often met by assumptions that it must be great working for Costco. “People seem to believe that Costco is this amazing place to work for, but their corporate life isn't much different from any corporations,’ she shared. Stacey asserted that the work she does for the popular chain would fall under three different departments at other companies.

She added: “Some of us who have been exposed to big start-ups like Amazon expected the work environment to be more positive in terms of growth and opportunity. Other corporations like Starbucks and T-Mobile are paying anywhere 10-30% more than Costco lower level employees are paid though.”

Photo: Spencer Lowell for Fortune

Photo: Spencer Lowell for Fortune

“The overall environment is probably tolerable because my department has many other like-minded people but it's easy to feel extremely burn out from the amount of work, the micromanagement, and our superiors expecting us to "look busy" at all times.” Stacey explained, adding that her biggest issues deal with pay and autonomy. “Our minutes on break are counted. Pay in the brick and mortar increases, but our pay at HQ continues to stay stagnant.”

To Stacey, it is no surprise that Costco has developed a reputation as being a great place to work. “Positive impressions get pumped out by the legacy employees,’ said Stacey. Legacy describes people whose families worked for Costco. Stacey stated that both “legacy” and “tenure” are big parts of Costco’s culture.

While this isn’t exactly a condemnation of Costco’s practices, this does add to increasing calls to discuss workplace culture. Pay isn’t the only baseline of what a good work place is and we should pause before heralding companies as heavenly because they don’t engage in the abusive practices we see in other businesses. We also need to keep an eye on who is providing the information we base our perceptions on. Creating humane working conditions is something that requires ongoing commitment, receptivity to feedback, and actual strides towards change. We shouldn’t let up on companies until we see those things.

*Pseudonyms have been used for privacy.