For decades, right or wrong, McDonald’s has been synonymous with “bottom of the barrel” employment. If you couldn’t find any other job – scraping gum off of middle school desks, picking dead animal carcasses off the road, cleaning crime scenes, shoveling rabbit dung… you name it – you could always go “work at McDonald’s.”
I say “right or wrong” because McDonald’s, in a way, has been a victim of its own success. Not only have they been the employer everybody loves to hate, they are the poster child for “fast food” all over the world. With over 35,000 locations – more than Wendy’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Arby’s combined – nobody, and I do mean nobody, employs as many low-wage workers as they do.
McDonald’s was there for me
Which brings us to actor James Franco’s recent Washington Times op-ed, entitled “McDonald’s was there for me when no one else was.” In it, Franco writes of a time when he couldn’t get in the acting school he wanted and, since his parents wouldn’t support him if he wasn’t in college, Franco needed a job, any job, to make ends meet. Someone asked him, “Are you too good to work at McDonald’s?” and his response was basically no, he most certainly wasn’t.
While Franco’s piece has been roundly criticized in some circles, particularly those in favor of a much higher minimum wage, it does bring up a common refrain among staffing professionals – Why on earth does someone without a job at all consider ANY work “beneath them?”
We’ve all encountered that starry-eyed, bushy-tailed applicant, fresh out of high school, ready to take on the world. In an age of “everyone’s a winner,” where schools would rather give everyone a “trophy” for every occasion than risk one of their delicate flowers enduring the pain and scars of, horror of horrors, getting rejected or experiencing disappointment, they’ve likely never experienced failure in their lives beyond a dropped juice box or a bad hair day.
Work? What are you talking about? They may want a job, a paycheck, but they don’t really want to get their hands dirty. When you ask them what type of position they would like to try, they may not answer “CEO,” but starting at the bottom is the last thing on their minds. They want an employer that’s willing to pay them to hang out and text their friends, at least on the days they don’t call off because, you know, it’s hard to “work” with a sniffle.
A workforce that doesn’t want to work
Lest you think I’m picking on the recent high school grads, it’s not just them. Blame it on welfare, extended unemployment benefits, moral decay, or just an overall sense of entitlement but, these days, there seems to be a growing percentage of the “work” force that simply doesn’t want to, well, work!
Too good to work at McDonald’s? Many of these people are too good to work anywhere at all!
And so, our clients suffer from lack of willing, qualified workers, the System suffers from an increasing percentage of the population content to be nothing more than a drain on it, and individuals suffer from a lack of self-esteem, usefulness, and overall personal well-being that comes from putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.
The other side of the coin are those who, while they do work (kudos for that!), protest and demand that the pay for their low-skilled, entry-level job be magically raised to a “living-wage.”
The staffing angle
From a staffing perspective, I would agree that some clients shoot themselves in the foot by paying well below what the job is actually worth, then get angry at us for not being able to provide a line of workers out the door begging to work for them. It may take some time and pain, but inevitably the market takes care of those employers. They either raise their pay or they make do with lower-quality employees, or none at all.
However, absent a takeover by robots, there will always be jobs that exist at the very bottom of the skill ladder. Artificially increasing the wages for these jobs puts a strain on already tapped employers which ultimately results in fewer jobs, thereby hurting teenagers and college students in desperate need of gainful employment, like James Franco was. It also results in higher prices for the rest of us, including those in the jobs themselves.
While I’m not among the one in eight Americans who have worked at McDonald’s at some point in my career, I did work at another restaurant in college. It fulfilled an immediate need, namely money, but it also helped me understand that anything in this life worth having takes hard work.
That’s why, despite the criticism being levied against Franco from the Left, despite his short, three-month “temp-like” stint at McDonald’s, I still respect his willingness to start at the bottom and actually perform real work at a time when he clearly needed to, and also for his candidness in writing about it today.
Maybe a generation can learn from his example.
This post first appeared on Staffing Talk.