Toyota gives US workers surprise pay rise; Walmart extends doula benefit nationwide

In this week's HR news round-up: Toyota takes what is widely seen as a preemptive move to ward against unionization; Walmart extends doula benefit nationwide, plus lots more:

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Nov 2, 2023
This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.

Toyota boosts wages in preemptive move

Bosses at Toyota have sensationally raised the wages of its US workers to $34.80 per hour and $43.20 per hour for the most skilled staff, as it aims to head off potential unionization attempts by the United Auto Workers union. The union has, until just recently, been locked in a long dispute with the ‘Detroit Three’ – Ford, General Motors and Stellantis – with a tentative agreement for an 11% pay rise finally agreed last week. Toyota’s raise represents a $2.94 an hour rise for less skilled staff and a bump of $3.70 per hour for its most highly skilled employees. The move is believed to have come about after UAW union boss, Shawn Fain, said the union was looking at organization efforts at Toyota and Tesla. “One of our biggest goals coming out of this historic contract victory is to organize like we’ve never organized before,” he said. “When we return to the bargaining table in 2028, it won’t just be with the Big Three. It will be the Big Five or Big Six.” Before reaching an agreement, Ford, Stellantis and GM had all argued that the UAW’s demands would significantly raise costs and put them at a disadvantage compared with EV leader Tesla and foreign brands such as Toyota Motor, which are non-unionized. The pay hikes happened the same week the Japanese automaker said it will invest another $8 billion in hybrid and EV battery factory in North Carolina, to add 3,000 more jobs.

Walmart extends its doula benefit nationwide

Retail giant, Walmart, has announced that the ability for pregnant staff to see a doula (and be reimbursed up to $1,000 to access one), will be expanded nationwide. Doula access was first piloted by the company in 2021, when Walmart rolled out the perk to staff in Georgia. A year later, the benefit was extended to Walmart workers in Louisiana, Indiana and Illinois. Now, every member of staff will get this same benefit (with the exception of employees working in in Hawaii, and those who are not enrolled in Walmart’s “premier,” “contribution,” “saver” or “local” benefits packages). According to Walmart, the benefit has been extended because it is estimated that around 5.6 million women live in US counties with little to no access to maternity care. Not only can doulas fill these gaps, but research from the National Black Doulas Association suggests their presence increases the likelihood of positive birthing outcomes. According to Maven’s 2023 State of Fertility & Family Benefits report, more than 60% of HR professionals plan to increase family health benefits over the next few years. Almost 90% of HR professionals acknowledged that family benefits are “extremely important” to their current employees.

Most new hires consider quitting within six months

New data from Qualtrics reveals there is no longer a honeymoon period for new joiners. It finds only 65% of new hires (those who have joined within the last six months), say they’re highly engaged with their job, and half these (38%) say they only plan to stay at their organization for three or more years. New staff feel particularly excluded, with the data revealing only 66% of new hires say they feel included at their company, a 4% drop from the year prior. This compares to 73% of all other employees. Commenting on the data, Qualtrics’ chief workplace psychologist, Benjamin Granger, said: “In the past, the employee experience looked like a U-shaped curve, where new and long-tenured employees both had more positive experiences and engagement than other workers.” He added: “Instead of seeing a U-shaped relationship, we saw more of a hockey stick, where the new hire attitudes were lower than the overall average, which is not something we had seen before.” Qualtrics argues organizations are spending far less time onboarding employees than they are on talent recruitment. By their own account, HR leaders say they have deprioritized the onboarding experience. While 50% of people executives say talent attraction and hiring are a top priority, just 41% say the same for onboarding, according to a separate Qualtrics survey of HR executives.

McDonald’s HR exec defends the transferable skills of its frontline workers

Fellow employers should not misjudge the hugely relevant skills that staff working at McDonald’s restaurants have, according to a top HR executive at the fast-food chain. Tiffanie Boyd, McDonald’s senior vice president and chief people officer for the US, says staff in its stores develop just the sort of critical soft skills like time management, customer service, communication and adaptability, that employers all say they’re looking for. Writing for ‘Head Topics’ she says: “You have to navigate a fast-paced environment and the tight deadlines and expectations that come along with it: like getting orders out on time, managing an influx of customers.” She adds: “Once you get the hang of that skill, it can help you excel in any job, whether you’re a software developer, leading a retail team or working in investment banking, because you’re able to calmly process a lot of incoming information, take action quickly, and deliver some type of result.”

Layoff anxiety at its highest point since peak of the Covid-19 pandemic…

Worries about being laid off have hit their highest level since the summer of 2020 according to latest figures from According to its monthly Employee Confidence Index (which records the share of US full-time and part-time employees who report a positive six-month business outlook for their employer), employee confidence fell to a new low in October. It found just 45% of employees reported a positive six-month business outlook. The previous low was in 2016. Meanwhile, although mentions of recession have fallen 10% year-on-year, year, discussion of ‘layoffs’ increased 60% year-over-year in October – which is the highest level since July 2020. Commenting on the figures, Daniel Zhao, senior economist at the job review site, said: “Why is employee confidence falling even as broader economic data remains strong? American workers may be most concerned about their job security regardless of how the economy is doing.” Health services and education saw the smallest declines in employee confidence, relative to other industries.

…even though layoff activity hits nine-month low

Data from the latest Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey shows that actual layoffs dropped to a nine-month low, while job openings increased – leading some to suggest a layoffs corner has now been turned. The data revealed that job openings – a measure of labor demand – were up 56,000 to 9.553 million on the last day of September. Overall, there were 1.50 job openings for every unemployed person in September, slightly up from 1.49 in August and significantly above the pre-pandemic ratio of 1.2. Job openings dropped 43,000 in federal government and there were 41,000 fewer open positions in the information industry. The job openings rate was unchanged at 5.7%. Hiring increased 21,000 to 5.871 million, indicating companies are continuing to experience difficulties finding workers. The hires rate was unchanged at 3.7%. Layoffs dropped 165,000 to 1.517 million, the lowest level since December 2022. According to Reuters, Americans are staying put at their jobs, which could help to ease wage inflation. The number of people quitting their jobs fell 2,000 to 3.661 million. The quits rate – viewed as a measure of labor market confidence – was unchanged at 2.3%. “Quitting activity has normalized to pre-pandemic levels consistent with a tight labor market but companies remain extremely reluctant to fire workers,” said Conrad DeQuadros, senior economic advisor at Brean Capital in New York.

Department of Defense creates UFO whistle-blowing website

Yes, it’s not some form of government conspiracy (we don’t think so anyway): the Department of Defense has created a new online form, that allows members of the public to report on any government employee that they suspect as being involved in any program related to unidentified anomalous phenomena (UAP) – the new name for UFOs. This ultimate whistle-blowing website comes after David Grusch, a former US intelligence official, testified to the House Oversight Committee in July that he had been informed about a “multi-decade” program in the Pentagon to collect and reassemble damaged UAPs. He also said he has interviewed individuals who have recovered “nonhuman biologics” from UAP crash sites. The online tool has been added to All-domain Anomaly Resolution Office’s website. The secure form’s use is limited to current or former US government employees, service members and contractors. The office’s director, Sean Kirkpatrick said: “I’d also like to take this opportunity to strongly encourage any current or former US government employees, military or civilian, or contractors who believe that they have firsthand knowledge of a US government UAP program or activity to please come forward using this new secure reporting mechanism.”

This article is part of a series called The Most Interesting HR Stories of the Week.