McJob: Human Resources Management Theories

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Executive Summary

According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary, a McJob is “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.” McJobs essentially refers to jobs in the service industry that are standardized, routine, deskilled, and highly specialized to the point of dull simplification; attributes that are largely the result of the scientific management principles of mass production that were introduced by Taylor (Alan, 2006).

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This paper goes on to analyze the McJob by using various theories in Human Resources Management and highlighting various ways in which an HR Manager can change the McJob into a more interesting job. Of these various theories the motivation theories include those formed by McGregor, who designated types of people and the different motivations of each type; Vroom, the creator of the valence theory and the process of motivation; and Maslow, who constructed the need-based hierarchy, or the content of motivation. The discussion of these theories is carried out while keeping the concept of McJobs in mind.

The next theory discussed is that of job design, and the manner in which the process is used to structure several tasks into a job. In addition to which the possible ways in which a McJob can be made are highlighted using this theory, with specific regards to the improvement of the McJob.

Another Human Resources Management theory that is discussed to further the discussion on McJobs is the Job Characteristics theory, which attributes the relationship of two factors – core characteristics of a job and the psychological states of the labour – to the impact on motivation, job satisfaction, performance, and job design. So while these job characteristics match that of the employees in a McJob, the critical psychological states are not dealt with which, therefore results in low motivation and performance in the job.

Taylorism or scientific management is the final theory, in which the concepts and principles are seemingly the basis of the McJob. The level of simplification of tasks to the extent that even unskilled workers can perform the jobs of skilled workers, while removing all decision making power from them highlights the characteristics of a McJob satisfactorily. So while it is deemed that Taylorism as a theory is now more for the history books than actual practice, the similarities show that Taylorism is still a prevalent practice in the market, despite the humanitarian concerns of such a process.

In addition to the theories mentioned, a study and an article have been discussed that enlarge the understanding of these jobs; their relevance to the paper due to the varying views and interesting arguments they present are also discussed.

The Mcjob: Unstimulating? An Analysis Using Hrm Theory

Motivation Theories

Depending on the perception of management about the type of employees as designated by McGregor, a McJob will be treated differently. Managers who believe that the employees fall under Theory X would engage in an authoritarian style and motivate them through the use of punishment and fear. Whereas Theory Y would have the managers provide them with an environment that facilitates their growth (Tyson, 2000).

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A McJob’s satisfaction, by Vroom’s theory, will be resultant of the performance of the employee, which will be influenced by the employee’s perception of the rewards and their equitability (Amos, 2009). But since McJobs are low satisfying but routine jobs, the expectancy is high while the instrumentality of the job being favourable is low; thus employees who have a positive valence towards a reward can be motivated through the introduction of positive reinforcement, which would increase the interest and reverse the perception of a McJob as ‘un stimulating’ (Allan, 2006).

As per Maslow’s hierarchy of needs approach, a McJob offers only the satisfaction of the need for socialization, and to an extent the physiological needs, whereas there is no guarantee of safety in the job; nor is there any esteem amongst employees in McJobs which be definition is a low dignity job (Armstrong, 2006). In this regard employees of such jobs can be easily motivated to perform better through the basic guarantee of safety in the job.

All motivation theories stem from the three components of motivation, namely: direction, effort, and persistence. With respect to jobs, motivation depends on the perception of managers on the predominance of any theory, which consequently affects the way in which they view and treat their employees, and subsequently the possible methods by which they can be motivated. These theories thus serve to explain the reason why McJobs are low satisfying jobs and possible ways in which to change that.

Job Design Theories

Job design is a process in which tasks are combined with responsibilities to form a job and its relationship to the organization (Bratton, 2001). It has to be taken into account within the framework of the organization’s design along with several other factors. The first of these factors to be considered is the process of intrinsic motivation which highlights the importance of structuring McJobs to reward employees through intrinsic and/or extrinsic incentives. Secondly, the complexity of the job structure is reflected in the number and variety of tasks, the range of decisions that have to be made and the difficulty of predicting their results, and the skills to be used; since none of these criteria are effectively met by McJobs the employees do not gain any satisfaction from working at their jobs. The third factor is the motivating characteristics of jobs by extending employees’ responsibilities from only the execution element of the task to the planning and controlling elements as well. Again, since McJobs are too specialized to allow increased responsibilities for employees the work is often monotonous and presents them with no motivation for improving efficiency (Armstrong, 2006).

The approaches for job design, which include job rotation, job enlargement, job enrichment, and self-management teams, can be used to improve on the McJob. As stated by Williams (2005) it is not necessary that such jobs be dead-end jobs. He cited the names of several ex-employees’ of McDonald’s who have become either CEO’s or famous celebrities as examples of McJobers’ who prove that working at these jobs is not demeaning, and in fact the lessons they learned from these jobs helped them prepare for the life they later led.

Job Characteristics Model

Developed by Hackman and Oldham in 1974, this model provides a perspective on the factors that affect motivation, job satisfaction, performance, and job design; which factors include the core characteristics of the job and the psychological state of the labour. The relationship between the two factors is largely dependent on the strength of each individual’s need for accomplishment, and desire of being challenged by the job (Swanepoel, 2004).

The critical psychological states are based on the concept of reinforcement and personal reward: an individual’s reinforcement is derived from the awareness of the responsibility that person has on a job that (s)he cares about (Armstrong, 2006). Therefore, if an individual’s work environment is satisfactory and the job characteristics are in line with the abilities of the person, while simultaneously allowing him/her to experience the psychological states, the person will experience high motivation and satisfaction, which will result in low absenteeism and high quality output (Swanepoel, 2004). However, while these McJobs have characteristics that match those of the employees, they severely lack in the level to which they allow the employees’ to experience the three psychological states, thus resulting in low satisfaction and motivation.

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An approach to job design, Taylorism was a set of management practices based on five principles: fragmenting jobs, separating planning from execution, separating direct and indirect labour, minimizing level of skill required, and reducing the handling of materials. The basic objective of Taylor was to increase the level of efficiency, standardization, and discipline of the workers by specialization of tasks, and then design of the jobs to eradicate wastage (Bratton, 2001).

Taylorism is also popularly referred to as scientific management and it rests on the principle of the division of tasks. Of the other four principles on which this theory was based, the next principle is similar to the Babbage principle of work intensification, in which all activities of the skilled workers are to be broken down and simplified for being taken over by the unskilled workers. The decision making power was subsequently proposed to be removed as well because of the view that all workers are inherently lazy and incompetent, which formed the third principle. The fourth principle stated that the simplification of the task would remove the power of the workers over the process, and finally, the last principle on which Taylorism was based was that movement of people should be minimized by effective placement of machinery and equipment so as to decrease wastage of time (Bratton, 2001).

Taylorism was chosen as a topic because the theory of McJobs is based on the Taylorist perspective of managing employees effectively through the deskilling of labour, as well as its connection with the previously discussed topics. Therefore, McJobs enjoy the same criticisms as does the theory of scientific management introduced by Taylor: firstly that the deskilling has led to boredom and dissatisfaction as expected by the failure of implementation of the job characteristics model, which stresses the importance of meaningfulness of the job; secondly, costs of management control to ensure consistent high quality have increased as more managers are required to supervise each task; and thirdly, the paradox of tighter control requiring even more control due to the resentment that is experienced by the workers who feel suffocated by the lack of responsibility that is entrusted to them (Bratton, 2001).

Some Useful Information Regarding the Mcjob on the Internet

The research paper, ‘Fast-food Work: Are McJobs Satisfying?’ was a study conducted by Allan (2006) in Australia. The conclusion of the research was that McJobs were usually offered to young individuals, who lack experience in the labour market and are thus naïve about several aspects of jobs such as employee relations and rights. Therefore, while the youth perceive that the dissatisfaction they obtain from work in the form of cost-minimizing behavior is offset by the satisfaction they receive from the HRM procedures and social relations, the latter satisfying aspects tend to decrease as the workers grow more experienced, giving rise to the view that McJobs are generally dissatisfying and unattractive jobs.

The article that was found on this subject was written by Williams (2005), ‘McJobs: Dead End Jobs?’ and it refuted the idea that McJobs were demeaning by citing several examples of ex-McJobers’ that succeeded to more lucrative and satisfying ventures. The basis of his argument was that the low pay was not necessarily as important a factor as the level of experience that individuals gained from what they learnt on the job.

The first study enlarged the scope of previous research on the same topic by analyzing the fast-food industry as a whole, as opposed to specific enterprises. In addition, the research presented an interesting analysis as to the reason behind the low satisfaction of employees in such jobs, whilst maintaining an unbiased perception of McJobs. It also expounded on the management of human resources and the positive views garnered from the respondents in this aspect. On the other hand, the article highlighted the importance of these jobs to the community through not only keeping potential criminals engaged in legal and harmless work, but also through gaining experience and finances that most individuals would not be able to get otherwise.


While Merriam-Webster’s will probably retain the definition contained about McJobs in their dictionary, it does not mean that these jobs have to remain so in the perception of managers and employees alike. It is the job of the HR managers to look into the ways in which they can transform these jobs from their current structure to a more efficient, yet simultaneously, to a more satisfying and enriching experience.

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Amos, T. & Ristow, A. & Pearse, N. J. & Ristow, L. (2009) Human Resource Management. Juta and Company Limited.

Armstrong, M. (2006) A Handbook of Human Resource Management Practice. Kogan Page Publishers.

Bratton, J. & Gold, J. (2001) Human Resource Management: Theory and Practice. Routledge.

Tyson, S. & York, A. (2000) Essentials of HRM. Published by Elsevier.

Swanepoel, B. & Schenk, H. & Erasmus, B, & Wyk, M. V. & Schenk, H. (2004) South African Human Resource Management: Theory & Practice. Juta and Company Limited.

Allan, C. & Bamber, G. J. & Timo, N. (2006) Fast-food work: are McJobs satisfying? Emerald Insight [Internet]. Web.

Williams, W. (2005) McJobs: Dead End Jobs? Capitalism Magazine [Internet]. Web.

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