McDonald’s, or, What You Can Learn from Work as a Teenager

 

I went to high school in Marquette, Michigan, a town of 22,000 in the Upper Peninsula. It is the largest city in the UP and is supported by a decent tourism industry in addition to mining and timber. The high school had about 1,200 students when I was there in the 1970s. Late in my sophomore year, a friend started working for the McDonald’s in town. I decided to apply and was given a minimum wage job.

I started work in the grill area, dressing burgers. The training was good, and I liked getting some money. I kind of just slid along, getting four-eight hours a week in two shifts on the weekend. Then an interesting thing happened. The general manager, not a particularly nice guy, asked me to clean the bathrooms. I went through the motions – mop, ice in the urinal, wipe things down, and came back to my post in the grill.

The GM came to me and asked me if I was done with the bathrooms. I said “yes,” and he replied “No, you’re not. Come with me.” We went to the men’s room and he showed me ketchup on the walls. And a spill behind the toilet. He made it clear that cleaning the bathrooms meant, you know cleaning them.

A light went off in my brain. It struck me what a job was. It was to understand the goal of an assignment and do it to the best of my ability. My whole attitude changed and so did my work habits. Soon I was getting full shifts on the weekends and some weeknight hours. I got a raise. One Saturday, I ran buns single-handedly on a $500 hour (that was a big hour in 1976). After a year, I was promoted to crew chief and got a cool yellow band around the base of my hat. The GM had given me a wonderful gift that has stayed with me my entire life.

The GM gave me another gift after I graduated. He called me into his office and asked me if I wanted to be an assistant manager. Fairly decent pay for a high school graduate. I told him that I had been admitted to UCLA and was planning to go to college. He said, “Absolutely, go to college, offer withdrawn.” He wasn’t such a bad guy after all.

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  1. Addiction Is A Choice Member
    Addiction Is A Choice
    @AddictionIsAChoice

    Great post, Clavius! Every job is important! And there are valuable lessons to be learned in all of them!

    You’re in good company, too! The famous actor James Franco once penned a paean to McDonalds in the Washington Post:

    https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/05/07/mcdonalds-was-there-for-me-when-no-one-else-was/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.c1397c632825

    • #1
  2. PHCheese Inactive
    PHCheese
    @PHCheese

    “There should be no work considered beneath you”, my Dad.

    • #2
  3. Retail Lawyer Member
    Retail Lawyer
    @RetailLawyer

    McDonalds was my first employer official enough to issue a corporate paycheck.  I was in high school and it seemed like a rite of passage.  “Clean don’t lean” is what I recall.  We served many very tough looking young Black men.  They would always get a fish sandwich and an orange soda.  I was contemplating a nutritional theory, “Eat wrong to be strong”.  One of these men reached in over the counter, grabbed me by the collar, held a knife to my throat and said I had given him cold fries and he demanded replacements.  I gave them to him.  Police were called, but I didn’t tell my parents.  Then one night the till came up short $20.  The manager insisted in looking into everyone’s wallet for a $20 bill.  I didn’t have $20 on me.  The search was inconclusive and the manager said that everyone would be taking lie detector tests.  I told my parents about this episode and my dad, a mailman, grew completely irate.  “You are not going back to that job.  You are not taking a lie detector test.”

    I promptly grew to like the world of work, bosses, responsibilities, and paychecks, but I always though these McJobs could easily have an opposite effect on impressionable young minds.

    • #3
  4. Matt Bartle Member
    Matt Bartle
    @MattBartle

    In that horrible movie “American Beauty” Kevin Spacey quits his high-pressure job to take one that he says has no pressure – working the drive-through at a fast food restaurant!

    I’ve never done it but it struck me at the time that such a job is probably not stress-free.

     

    • #4
  5. 9thDistrictNeighbor Member
    9thDistrictNeighbor
    @9thDistrictNeighbor

    If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

    MLK, “What is your Life’s Blueprint,” October 1967.

    • #5
  6. Jon Gabriel, Ed. Admin
    Jon Gabriel, Ed.
    @jon

    Popping in only to note that my parents were also Yoopers, hailing from Sault Ste. Marie. Also, I too learned many lessons from my first jobs as a paper boy and a bag boy.

    • #6
  7. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    My experience is that for a lot of people it takes more than one interaction with a boss to learn that “doing a job” means getting a meaningful objective accomplished rather than just going through the motions. There are people who never figure that out, even in a lifetime of working. It appears that you learned quicker than your peers, and it appears you were rewarded for your quick learning. 

    • #7
  8. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    I admire the McDonald’s corporation very much. Their Ronald McDonald Houses have helped so many families weather the terrible seas of childhood illnesses.

    But most especially I admire their best-first-job campaign. They are serious about helping their employees, as can be seen in this video.

    By the way, I came across an interesting statistic in a terrific book I read years ago. Jerry Newman, a professor of business at Syracuse University, took a year’s sabbatical to work for fast-food restaurants, and he wrote a touching story about the places he worked and the “lunch rush.” Some chapters are hilarious. The book is My Secret Life on the McJob (2007).

    One of the points Newman made about the fast-food business is that half of the restaurants’ employees ride a bike or walk to work. That little statistic turns upside down the notion that the big-business restaurant chains are plunked in communities and neighborhoods by some force “from above.” Rather, these restaurants are buildings that become workplaces for local people–lots of teenagers–who need the jobs and who benefit from them and who wouldn’t have them if these restaurants weren’t there. These restaurants give some kids who live in rural areas a connection to the wide world outside their small town.

    • #8
  9. Ansonia Member
    Ansonia
    @Ansonia

    Re: # 4

    I’ll say it isn’t stress free. I quit after less than a week of it, back when I was about 18.  I took a job in a convalescent home instead.

    • #9
  10. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    Love the “no work is beneath you” line.  Would that every corporate lifer lived by that code.  We’d see an uptick in productivity immediately.

    Doing some base-level work (cleaning toilets, mopping floors) will really level-set you on what work is, how thoughtless some people can be (a small percentage overall, but still), and how lucky we are if we have worked out way out of those gigs.

    • #10
  11. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    McDonalds was my first employer official enough to issue a corporate paycheck. I was in high school and it seemed like a rite of passage. “Clean don’t lean” is what I recall. We served many very tough looking young Black men. They would always get a fish sandwich and an orange soda. I was contemplating a nutritional theory, “Eat wrong to be strong”. One of these men reached in over the counter, grabbed me by the collar, held a knife to my throat and said I had given him cold fries and he demanded replacements. I gave them to him. Police were called, but I didn’t tell my parents. Then one night the till came up short $20. The manager insisted in looking into everyone’s wallet for a $20 bill. I didn’t have $20 on me. The search was inconclusive and the manager said that everyone would be taking lie detector tests. I told my parents about this episode and my dad, a mailman, grew completely irate. “You are not going back to that job. You are not taking a lie detector test.”

    I promptly grew to like the world of work, bosses, responsibilities, and paychecks, but I always though these McJobs could easily have an opposite effect on impressionable young minds.

    When I worked the closing shift (done at 2am), I was amazed to learn that the night manager would balance the change in store inventory against the daily receipts every day.  After a series of shortages, a person was moved off front counter duty to the grill and the shortages stopped.

    • #11
  12. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    I never worked fast food, but I was a busboy at the Andrews AFB NCO club.  It wasn’t very demanding, and the waitresses would tip you a dollar or two at the end of your shift.  There were usually two busboys on a shift, and we worked out a sort of semaphore system where the busboy clearing the table could let the other one know what was needed to reset the table.  God only knows what the customers thought of us, though as far as I can recall, there were no complaints.

    • #12
  13. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    • #13
  14. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    McDonalds was my first employer official enough to issue a corporate paycheck. I was in high school and it seemed like a rite of passage. “Clean don’t lean” is what I recall. We served many very tough looking young Black men. They would always get a fish sandwich and an orange soda. I was contemplating a nutritional theory, “Eat wrong to be strong”. One of these men reached in over the counter, grabbed me by the collar, held a knife to my throat and said I had given him cold fries and he demanded replacements. I gave them to him. Police were called, but I didn’t tell my parents. Then one night the till came up short $20. The manager insisted in looking into everyone’s wallet for a $20 bill. I didn’t have $20 on me. The search was inconclusive and the manager said that everyone would be taking lie detector tests. I told my parents about this episode and my dad, a mailman, grew completely irate. “You are not going back to that job. You are not taking a lie detector test.”

    I promptly grew to like the world of work, bosses, responsibilities, and paychecks, but I always though these McJobs could easily have an opposite effect on impressionable young minds.

    When I worked the closing shift (done at 2am), I was amazed to learn that the night manager would balance the change in store inventory against the daily receipts every day. After a series of shortages, a person was moved off front counter duty to the grill and the shortages stopped.

    Dude, I can’t believe you’re brining this up again, I told you it was Steve. 

    • #14
  15. Clifford A. Brown Contributor
    Clifford A. Brown
    @CliffordBrown

    A reflection on learning about work, a “job,” that is one of the most important gifts we can be given.


    This conversation is part of our Group Writing Series under the March 2019 Group Writing Theme: Unexpected Gifts. There are plenty of dates still available. Tell us about anything from a hidden talent to a white elephant. Share a great surprise or memorable failure (oh, you shouldn’t have!). Our schedule and sign-up sheet awaits.

    April’s theme is “Men and Women.”

    • #15
  16. Chris Campion Coolidge
    Chris Campion
    @ChrisCampion

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    That’s about right.  Hoping that if I can set expectations well enough for the people who do work for me, they’ll meet them, because they’ll know what I’m looking for.  It’s when you set expectations, and they are not met, and there seems to be a permanent gap between expectations and results….well, then it’s another conversation.

    Can’t help wondering about clarity, though.  If I think I’ve been clear, and the employee doing the actual work says “Yep, I’ve got it”, and then the results don’t match my expectations – is that on me?  Or both of us?  

    • #16
  17. Phil Turmel Coolidge
    Phil Turmel
    @PhilTurmel

    Chris Campion (View Comment):
    Can’t help wondering about clarity, though. If I think I’ve been clear, and the employee doing the actual work says “Yep, I’ve got it”, and then the results don’t match my expectations – is that on me? Or both of us?

    Yeah, that one’s tough.  I usually ding the manager (me) for these.  After investigating, so I can keep it from repeating.

    • #17
  18. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    TBA (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    McDonalds was my first employer official enough to issue a corporate paycheck. I was in high school and it seemed like a rite of passage. “Clean don’t lean” is what I recall. We served many very tough looking young Black men. They would always get a fish sandwich and an orange soda. I was contemplating a nutritional theory, “Eat wrong to be strong”. One of these men reached in over the counter, grabbed me by the collar, held a knife to my throat and said I had given him cold fries and he demanded replacements. I gave them to him. Police were called, but I didn’t tell my parents. Then one night the till came up short $20. The manager insisted in looking into everyone’s wallet for a $20 bill. I didn’t have $20 on me. The search was inconclusive and the manager said that everyone would be taking lie detector tests. I told my parents about this episode and my dad, a mailman, grew completely irate. “You are not going back to that job. You are not taking a lie detector test.”

    I promptly grew to like the world of work, bosses, responsibilities, and paychecks, but I always though these McJobs could easily have an opposite effect on impressionable young minds.

    When I worked the closing shift (done at 2am), I was amazed to learn that the night manager would balance the change in store inventory against the daily receipts every day. After a series of shortages, a person was moved off front counter duty to the grill and the shortages stopped.

    Dude, I can’t believe you’re brining this up again, I told you it was Steve.

    You must be confused. I was cleaning the bathroom.

    • #18
  19. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    My experience is that for a lot of people it takes more than one interaction with a boss to learn that “doing a job” means getting a meaningful objective accomplished rather than just going through the motions. There are people who never figure that out, even in a lifetime of working. It appears that you learned quicker than your peers, and it appears you were rewarded for your quick learning.

    Some bosses aren’t particularly good at communicating clear objectives.

    • #19
  20. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    I had two similar jobs with two different bosses. The first one was generally a curmudgeon and rarely praised anyone for their work. The second was generally nicer, and thanked us every day. I actually liked both of them, but the first one got better results in my opinion. And whenever the second one thanked us, I thought “if we did such a good job, why didn’t we finish on time?

    • #20
  21. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    I had two similar jobs with two different bosses. The first one was generally a curmudgeon and rarely praised anyone for their work. The second was generally nicer, and thanked us every day. I actually liked both of them, but the first one got better results in my opinion. And whenever the second one thanked us, I thought “if we did such a good job, why didn’t we finish on time?

    It doesn’t cost anything to be polite. And I’m much more comfortable being well mannered to the people I work with, as opposed to the false enthusiasm that’s all too often a feature of the contemporary work place. 

    • #21
  22. Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw Member
    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw
    @MattBalzer

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    I had two similar jobs with two different bosses. The first one was generally a curmudgeon and rarely praised anyone for their work. The second was generally nicer, and thanked us every day. I actually liked both of them, but the first one got better results in my opinion. And whenever the second one thanked us, I thought “if we did such a good job, why didn’t we finish on time?

    It doesn’t cost anything to be polite. And I’m much more comfortable being well mannered to the people I work with, as opposed to the false enthusiasm that’s all too often a feature of the contemporary work place.

    Reasonable, but if it takes someone three hours to do a fifteen minute job I don’t think I’d say they had done a good job.

    • #22
  23. Steve C. Member
    Steve C.
    @user_531302

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    I had two similar jobs with two different bosses. The first one was generally a curmudgeon and rarely praised anyone for their work. The second was generally nicer, and thanked us every day. I actually liked both of them, but the first one got better results in my opinion. And whenever the second one thanked us, I thought “if we did such a good job, why didn’t we finish on time?

    It doesn’t cost anything to be polite. And I’m much more comfortable being well mannered to the people I work with, as opposed to the false enthusiasm that’s all too often a feature of the contemporary work place.

    Reasonable, but if it takes someone three hours to do a fifteen minute job I don’t think I’d say they had done a good job.

    Agreed. 

    • #23
  24. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    That’s about right. Hoping that if I can set expectations well enough for the people who do work for me, they’ll meet them, because they’ll know what I’m looking for. It’s when you set expectations, and they are not met, and there seems to be a permanent gap between expectations and results….well, then it’s another conversation.

    Can’t help wondering about clarity, though. If I think I’ve been clear, and the employee doing the actual work says “Yep, I’ve got it”, and then the results don’t match my expectations – is that on me? Or both of us?

    There is certainly a human tendency to say, “Tep, I’ve got it” when one hasn’t got it. It is probably even more pronounced when dealing with a superior. 

    • #24
  25. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Steve C. (View Comment):

    TBA (View Comment):

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Retail Lawyer (View Comment):

    McDonalds was my first employer official enough to issue a corporate paycheck. I was in high school and it seemed like a rite of passage. “Clean don’t lean” is what I recall. We served many very tough looking young Black men. They would always get a fish sandwich and an orange soda. I was contemplating a nutritional theory, “Eat wrong to be strong”. One of these men reached in over the counter, grabbed me by the collar, held a knife to my throat and said I had given him cold fries and he demanded replacements. I gave them to him. Police were called, but I didn’t tell my parents. Then one night the till came up short $20. The manager insisted in looking into everyone’s wallet for a $20 bill. I didn’t have $20 on me. The search was inconclusive and the manager said that everyone would be taking lie detector tests. I told my parents about this episode and my dad, a mailman, grew completely irate. “You are not going back to that job. You are not taking a lie detector test.”

    I promptly grew to like the world of work, bosses, responsibilities, and paychecks, but I always though these McJobs could easily have an opposite effect on impressionable young minds.

    When I worked the closing shift (done at 2am), I was amazed to learn that the night manager would balance the change in store inventory against the daily receipts every day. After a series of shortages, a person was moved off front counter duty to the grill and the shortages stopped.

    Dude, I can’t believe you’re brining this up again, I told you it was Steve.

    You must be confused. I was cleaning the bathroom.

    I meant Phil. 

    • #25
  26. Randy Webster Member
    Randy Webster
    @RandyWebster

    TBA (View Comment):

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    That’s about right. Hoping that if I can set expectations well enough for the people who do work for me, they’ll meet them, because they’ll know what I’m looking for. It’s when you set expectations, and they are not met, and there seems to be a permanent gap between expectations and results….well, then it’s another conversation.

    Can’t help wondering about clarity, though. If I think I’ve been clear, and the employee doing the actual work says “Yep, I’ve got it”, and then the results don’t match my expectations – is that on me? Or both of us?

    There is certainly a human tendency to say, “Tep, I’ve got it” when one hasn’t got it. It is probably even more pronounced when dealing with a superior.

    If I don’t think I can do what my boss is asking me to do, I try to let him know as early in the process as possible.  If it can’t be done, it can’t be done, and there’s no point wasting resources on it.

    • #26
  27. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Stina (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    My experience is that for a lot of people it takes more than one interaction with a boss to learn that “doing a job” means getting a meaningful objective accomplished rather than just going through the motions. There are people who never figure that out, even in a lifetime of working. It appears that you learned quicker than your peers, and it appears you were rewarded for your quick learning.

    Some bosses aren’t particularly good at communicating clear objectives.

    Sometimes bosses don’t have clear objectives.  This is where articulating a vision and trying to create an environment where people collaborate to achieve that vision is more effective than specific direction.

    But specific direction certainly comes into play sometimes.

    • #27
  28. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Matt Balzer, Imperialist Claw (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    I had two similar jobs with two different bosses. The first one was generally a curmudgeon and rarely praised anyone for their work. The second was generally nicer, and thanked us every day. I actually liked both of them, but the first one got better results in my opinion. And whenever the second one thanked us, I thought “if we did such a good job, why didn’t we finish on time?

    There was a study I learned about when getting my MBA ages ago.  It found that companies that set very high goals but failed to reach them out-performed companies that set reasonable goals but met them.  A similar dynamic may be at work in this situation.

    • #28
  29. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    TBA (View Comment):

    Chris Campion (View Comment):

    thelonious (View Comment):

    I had a manager once tell me “I’ll either be the nicest boss you worked for or the meanest boss you worked for. You make the choice.” I’ve noticed over the years the workers who complain the most about their boss are generally the worst workers.

    That’s about right. Hoping that if I can set expectations well enough for the people who do work for me, they’ll meet them, because they’ll know what I’m looking for. It’s when you set expectations, and they are not met, and there seems to be a permanent gap between expectations and results….well, then it’s another conversation.

    Can’t help wondering about clarity, though. If I think I’ve been clear, and the employee doing the actual work says “Yep, I’ve got it”, and then the results don’t match my expectations – is that on me? Or both of us?

    There is certainly a human tendency to say, “Tep, I’ve got it” when one hasn’t got it. It is probably even more pronounced when dealing with a superior.

    And when dealing across cultures.

    • #29
  30. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Clavius (View Comment):

    Stina (View Comment):

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    My experience is that for a lot of people it takes more than one interaction with a boss to learn that “doing a job” means getting a meaningful objective accomplished rather than just going through the motions. There are people who never figure that out, even in a lifetime of working. It appears that you learned quicker than your peers, and it appears you were rewarded for your quick learning.

    Some bosses aren’t particularly good at communicating clear objectives.

    Sometimes bosses don’t have clear objectives. This is where articulating a vision and trying to create an environment where people collaborate to achieve that vision is more effective than specific direction.

    But specific direction certainly comes into play sometimes.

    One of my bosses had a very hard time determining my top priority. Or rather, it was far too easy for him, as he would change it every time he saw me. “Bernie, you’ve given me three different top priorities so far today. If you are about to change it again, I’m going home for the day.”

    • #30
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