My Secret Life on the McJob : Book Review; V4 Issue 2

   Title: My Secret Life on the McJob
   Author: Jerry Newman
   Publication details:Tata McGraw-Hill, 2007
   Number of pages: 203

Looking through the library to find a book to review for Prerana, I found books that were either too preachy, or too factual, until I chanced upon one with mustard and tomato ketchup dispensers on its cover. Titled ‘My Secret Life on the McJob’ and written by Jerry Newman, this book is about life behind the counters of fast food joints like McDonalds, Wendy’s, and Burger King. After the author’s daughter gets a rubber glove finger, in her burger at a fast food joint, the author, a college professor, decides to take a sabbatical to embark on a unique journey to gain insights into the functioning of fast food joints. This leads him through several jobs in various fast food joints, as well as a hospital visit for his bad back including 9 months of rehabilitation.

Jerry Newman a University Distinguished Teaching Professor for the New York State University, Buffalo is the coauthor of 'Compensation', a bestseller and an advisor to firms like AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Burger King, McDonald’s, and Nabisco. However, it was not easy for him to find his first job at a fast food joint. It was only after he had understated his qualifications that he actually found a job. Having been a professor for over 30 years, he was used to being the center of attention and it was difficult for him to adapt to the new circumstances of his choice where he was often “invisible” and not thanked at all for his work. Jerry works in seven different capacities, the Front Counter, the Sandwich Board, as the Fry Guy, the Runner, the Cook, Specialty Prep, apart from doing menial work such as mopping and cleaning the floor. Along his year long journey, he learns that the McJob is not as easy as it is believed. While it pays less and is perceived to be dead end and boring, it does take quite a bit of time and skill to master. Managing workers who are paid less than their counterparts in other restaurants, some of whom have tougher jobs does need quite a bit of personnel management skills, as the book successfully brings across.

The book talks about the different types of managers, and the reasons for their success in different contexts. A toxic manager is one who uses sarcasm very often on the employees in order to get work done or as punishment. A mechanical manager is highly impersonal and is not empathic to employee needs. A relationship manager ensures that the employees develop strong friendships with each other. A performance manager sets specific performance parameters and sets rewards with regard to those parameters. The book also talks about the different kinds of workers. The survival worker is one who is doing the job only to make ends meet. The way-station worker is one who is holding the current job until the next phase in his/her life. An aimless worker does not know what to do in his/her life and thus is doing this job to pass time until something better comes up. A career worker is someone who is doing this job as a career and thus wants to pursue it long term. However, all the employees who hold McJobs have three things in common.

  • They know what goods/services to deliver
  • They know to deliver the goods/services under pressure
  • They work as a team

In the fast food industry, with its employee diversity, communication issues arise because of language and cultural barriers. This is when the practical prowess of a manager is needed. A manager who can understand what the worker is going through is able to manage things better, as compared to a mechanical manager who simply wants things done and works according to the rule book. The author says that the best restaurant he has worked at was a Burger King, and the worst was also a Burger King. So, the work quality is not organization specific, but specific to the culture of a work place. The managers together with the employees in that workplace create this culture.

Training in these restaurant chains happens less on the job, and more through videos that show the slow and deliberate preparation of each item. While on the job, preparations were to be done amidst a lot of clamor and pressure. This goes to show that the training that is imparted must be realistic. Employees are rarely told to have realistic expectations; they are told that the job would be easy and boring, but in reality they end up being high pressure, high speed, and high precision jobs with minimal room for error.

Although the book talks about the way fast food joints are managed, there is a lot to learn about managing one’s workplace on a daily basis. Motivating workers involves not only rewarding them monetarily, because sure enough, just down the road there will be another employer ready to pay more for the same work. In such a scenario, and in an industry where the average industry turnover is about 200%, a lot more than pure monetary motivation is needed. The book gives examples of managers who have managed to keep employee turnover at about 100%, which is an amazing figure for this industry. This book is overall, a quick and interesting read.