Give Your Team a Break Today: Are You a McJob Manager?

Author: Daiv Russell


Judging by McDonald's response to one of the 10,000 additions to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, managers now have a new yardstick by which they can determine if their employees will honestly say "i'm lovin' it"(sic) or not, with regard to employment satisfaction.

A McJob has been defined as "A job, usually in the retail or service sector, that is low paying, often temporary, and offers minimal or no benefits or opportunity for promotion."


In an open letter, McDonald's CEO Jim Cantalupo said the new term is "an inaccurate description" and "a slap in the face."   Well, I hate to tell you, if your employees feel that they have a McJob, you might just need that slap in the face.


McDonald's has a knack for allowing the least employable to mindlessly follow well-established routines and recipes with special equipment, timers, bells, whistles, and gongs.   All guesswork is removed from every single process.  You buy a franchise, and rest is pre-programmed for you.  Some prospective franchisees balk at how restrictive the franchise agreements are, since they prevent a great deal of "thinking outside of the box" that made the chain famous in the first place.

While McDonald's Theory-X ( management style may have survived since the 1950's, they're obviously racing to keep up with America's need for healthier and trendier foods.  They've begun offering "better for you" fast food items, such as white-meat nuggets and an adult Happy Meal, featuring a salad and pedometer.  Additionally, they've opened a handful of new stores called McCafe, offering coffee drinks and brioche, la Starbuck's.


The McCafe may very well become the next "New Coke" fiasco.  It's successful execution depends heavily upon the ability of management to actually allow their staff to truly *think* something new and different.  Thus far, however, it seems that they're just going through the motions, keeping McCafe in line with the micromanagement mentality McDonald's manifests.

Many other companies have realized the need to embrace the 21st century.   Software exists to automate darn near everything, computers are faster and smaller than ever, and practically every piece of information is accessible at the speed of light over the Internet.   Even the automotive industry woke up a few years ago and started producing more fuel-efficient engines.   Maybe the inventor of the 100mpg carburetor will soon emerge from his hiding place in Area 51 - who knows!


Most of these significant advances would have been impossible without modern management techniques.  It doesn't really matter *which* ones, they're all a far cry better than assuming that, unless micromanaged, all employees will avoid work, and if necessary, go so far as to harm their host company in attempts to enrich their personal lives.

Why, of all things, with so many success models to choose from (such as TQM (Total Quality Management), MBO (Management By Objectives), "offices without walls", and values-based management), are there still managers in all sectors who treat staff as if they were felons rather than teammates?  Why do some managers ensure that they and their organization will progress negligibly?

Perhaps they fear becoming useless as competent underlings excel with technologies that are just outside of the manager's grasp.  Maybe these managers are just unable to change with the times and keep current with advances in organizational psychology.  Regardless, it should start becoming obvious to all managers today;  no one will tolerate a McJob.

McDonald's disappointment with the disparaging term indicates that they fear that a McJob won't be long tolerated, even in McDonaldland.  Certainly, as the economy picks up and first quarter budgets are approved, many employees, tethered to their current employer through fear of unemployment will find an escape from their McJob.   This holds especially true for software engineers who saw 180,000 jobs in their field disappear over the past two years, and whose employers have become more and more abusive in this employer's market.   When the dust has settled, those managers who cling to antiquated management styles may still be able to find a place which will embrace their talents:   managing McLatte-slinging baristas at the local McCafe, with rulebooks, time cards, and coffee timers.

Perhaps managers with outdated skills can survive in an economy where people are hungry for whatever job comes along.   However, every economic downturn brings an upturn of greater magnitude.  When better situations arise, their wage slaves will find a new master.  And those managers who suddenly find themselves without a team will surely be suspect.


Daiv Russell  (  is a Software Engineering Strategist with Envision Software,  (http:/  a software development project consulting and outsourcing company committed to helping information technology organizations solve problems, increase revenues, and reduce costs by guiding software development teams through project management chaos.

Envision publishes Luminary, a monthly software project management newsletter


dedicated to improving the value of software teams.

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