McJobs – an outdated definition

The term McJob was coined by the Canadian novelist Douglas Coupland in his 1991 novel Generation X.It was used to describe a“low-prestige, low-dignity, low-benefit, no-future job in the service sector” and its increased usage in everyday language lead to the term being entered as a dictionary definition in 2003 (BBC, 9th November 2003).McDonald’s has complained about the use of the term ever since it was recorded in the dictionary, but now they have taken this a step further by launching a petition to get the definition changed (BBC, 23rd May 2007).

McDonald’s senior vice president David Fairhurst states:“The current definition is extremely insulting to the 67,000 people who work for us within the UK. It is also insulting for everyone else who works in the wider restaurant and tourism sectors”. 

There is support for McDonald’s petition from some academics.The Brighter Futures report, authored by Professor Adrian Furnham of University College London, suggests that McJobs are wrongly derided.The report suggests that many people in these jobs are often young and that this first experience of work can have a positive experience on their lives.The BBC suggests it can result in benefits ranging from“having increased self-esteem, to being cleaner around the house, the benefits are both personal and practical” (BBC, 8th June 2006).

There is also evidence that McDonald’s is investing in its workforce.This includes branches of McDonald’s becoming exam centres, as the organisation offers qualifications equivalent to GCSEs in numeracy and literacy at work (19th September 2006).This could lead to improved motivation of its workforce with benefits such as improved recruitment and lower labour turnover.

There does seem to be some evidence that the definition of a McJob is becoming outdated.However, there are other examples of service sector companies offering a wider range of benefits to their workers.The Times 100 presents a case study of the Total Reward system used at the Royal Bank of Scotland that includes financial and non financial rewards.


McDonald’s anger over McJob entry – BBC News, 9th November 2003

McDonald’s begins McJob petition – BBC News, 23rd May 2007

The flip side of a McJob – BBC News, 8th June 2006

McDonald’s to offer exams at work – BBC News, 19th September 2006–motivating-through-total-reward–106-258-1.php

Video Clip:

McJobs Dictionary Appeal, BBC Newsnight

Potential Study Questions
What are the benefits to McDonald’s of having the definition of a McJob changed?
With reference to motivational theorists, how might the provision to earn qualifications at work increase motivation within the workforce?
What types of non-financial rewards are provided by the Royal Bank of Scotland to workers?