The fast food industry gives many people their first job – and McDonald’s is the largest firm in the sector. In Australia in 2007, 56,000 people were employed in 730 McDonald’s outlets. Other employers have a combined national workforce of 50,000.
The McDonald’s workforce
In Australia, North America and many European and Asian countries, free-standing suburban McDonald’s outlets:
- Employ approximately 50 to 60 workers.
- Operate up to 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
- Have on-site managers who are typically in their late teens or early 20s supervise these workforces.
- 80 per cent of managers started work behind a McDonald’s counter as one of the crew.
75 per cent of outlet managers are between 18 and 25 years old:
- A small majority (55.6 per cent) is female.
- More than 90 per cent have been working at the firm for more than four years.
- Nearly three-quarters (73.5 per cent) are not students.
- Around half have a high school education or less.
- Nearly 30 per cent have at least three years of tertiary study.
- Is influenced by principles of scientific management.
- Imports key tenets of Fordism and Taylorism to a service industry.
- Is associated with high-profile controversies.
- Possibility that fast food jobs exploit a young, vulnerable and low-skilled sector of the labour market.
- Explicitly makes the case for mistreatment.
- It is alleged managers are excessively anti-union and as agents for human resources policies that offer illusory crew advantages while hiding sinister cost-control agendas.
- Is underpinned by an employer ideology that can be traced to beliefs held
by fast food pioneers such as Ray Kroc.
- Is widely viewed as being uniformly and ruthlessly applied in all McDonald’s and similar outlets.
- Uses micromanagement and standardisation that is well known in business circles.
- Has come to epitomise corporate control through uniform application of employment-relations policy.
McDonald’s labour management blue-print
But are all outlet managers really uncom-promising in applying the fast food approach? Of course, it is possible that they are near-perfect agents for their employer. On the other hand, managers may not rigidly apply the fast food approach but rather adapt or attenuate it.
McDonald manager’s attitude to management
Findings about work organisation reveal that outlet managers are not uncompromising in the way they apply the principles of scientific management.
- Crew mostly do a variety of duties during their shifts and managers typically believe that this should be the case.
- Managers generally feel that crew should perform a broad range of non-complex tasks.
- Managers mostly do what they believe works best.
- Managers who believe that crew should be told, in detail, how to perform tasks are inclined to give a lot of direction.
- Better educated managers favour giving crew a broader range of more complicated tasks to do at work.
- Crew members are able to control the number of hours they are required to work from week to week.
- Crew who perform well are offered more hours of work.
- Managers also appear to believe, subject to adequate performance, that crew should be allowed to keep their job for as long as they like.
- When it comes to more senior roles at McDonald’s, current employees are always favoured over people who do not work for the organisation.
The corporate and manager relationship
The relationship between corporate intention and management practice is not straightforward. Although the fast food approach incorporates strategic opposition to unionism, outlet managers are simply either:
- Unaware of the role and relevance of unions.
- Or, if they are more experienced, somewhat opposed to unions but inclined to use human resources practices to replace their benefits.
Furthermore, unlike their employer’s prescribed approach, managers are not rigid in the way they organise work, but rather attenuate certain scientific management elements of the prescribed food production and delivery strategy.
Managers indicate a commitment to human resources that incorporates an interest in crew welfare and non-commercial advantage. This commitment is manifest through:
- A culture of flexible work arrangements.
- A propensity to incorporate crew preference in decision-making.
- A tendency to bend or break rules laid down in the operations and training manual.
- Sending crew home early when business is slow.
- Resolving disputes without using the prescribed strategy.