My Secret Life on the McJob, by Jerry Freeman

Book 3

I read My Secret Life on the McJob, by SUNY management professor Jerry Freeman. His sabbatical project was to work around the country at different fast food restaurants and observe the management techniques. This book is the final product.

The interesting conclusion he came to was that the procedures for making sandwiches are extremely rigid, but the management of people was entirely up to the location.

An observation he made is that those procedures are made so that people don’t need to think, they simply react. This may be helpful during the lunch rush, but the consequence is that since crew members are not required to think, managers tend to think they are not able to think for themselves.

There was discussion of turnover, which I found interesting. He noted that most of us white collar HR types would panic at the sight of a 25% turnover. True. In fast food the standard is between 200 and 250%. The manager that Freeman called the “best” was extremely proud of her turnover rate – 111%.

I liked that Freeman made a point to say that his favorite manager – the most personable and caring – was not quite the “best”. The “best” had high expectations for performance and played by the book, which was not always accommodating.

He discussed the use of “more hours” as a reward for good work. In fast food, financial rewards are not easy to come by, and promotions can only go a couple of grades before someone has to retire for the next one. Hours are reduced for employees not measuring up.

Socio-economic point. Freeman noted that one fast food place was paying a much lower hourly rate than a competitor store a mile down the road. Why would anyone work for a dollar less per hour? Because not everyone has the transportation to get himself down the road reliably.

The chapter on Diversity was great. Freeman notes that fast food is the best integrated industry around. No one cares about gender or religion or ethnicity if the job is done. However. He noted that women are generally at the register (because they are more friendly and approachable or something) and are never asked to help unload a truck. Also (I wish I had the book handy to quote it), he made a point about “critical mass”:

When you have a diverse group, people work together and get along out of necessity. Everyone needs each other to get the job done well. When the job is done well, you start to like each other. However, at the “critical mass”, whatever the number may be, people don’t need to work en masse and will congregate with their “own” group.

Is that a universal truth? Maybe that is Freeman’s next book.

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