When I graduated from uni I had no idea what kind of job to look for. After being unemployed for a while (far too long), I landed a job. Not my dream job. No. Far from it. I would be working in a call centre cold calling people and trying to persuade them to upgrade their life insurance plan. Yes, I was that guy. And I received my fair share of abuse for being such a pain in the arse. These kinds of jobs - those which are low-skilled, low-paying and with few prospects - are called 'McJobs'; and they're making a comeback.
The term McJob was popularised by author Douglas Coupland in his novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture (1991). The struggles of Gen Xers and their McJobs were satirised in 90's classics such as Reality Bites (1994) and Human Traffic (1999). In Human Traffic, Nina gets so fed up with her robotic job and creepy manager that she exclaims “fuck this!” and quits. Many of us feel this way about our jobs, whether they count as a McJob or not. Still, McDonald’s isn’t happy about the term.
A Bad Reputation
Even though a McJob is any job which is unstimulating, McDonald’s has struggled to shake off its reputation of being the most low-prestige place to work. The fast-food establishment was so angered by the term that they launched a petition to have its definition changed. McDonald’s said the definition is “out of date” and “extremely insulting” to its employees.
Despite these complaints, the definition still stands. And we may be hearing the term a lot more, since job insecurity (which is common to McJobs) is on the rise. McJobs have long been stigmatised - but now that potentially 1 in 10 of us is in insecure employment, it’s worth asking: is a McJob something to be ashamed of?
Competition, Debt and Insecure Work
We live in a competitive society, in every sense of the term. There is competition not only for jobs themselves, but job status too. Job title, company and industry all seem to exist on a spectrum of status, with an entry-level job at McDonald’s at the far end of low-status jobs. But there is something snobbish about looking down at McJobs.
Young people live in tough times, having to deal with a highly competitive jobs market, crazy student debt and the rising cost of rent. If someone is working for low pay in the service sector to get by, why is this something to sneer at? If anything, a graduate who can ‘swallow their pride’ and work for McDonald’s has more of a can-do attitude and better grip on their personal finances than the graduate who says: “I have a Masters in physics…I can’t go work at Maccy Ds!”
A record number (910,000) of workers are on zero-hours contracts (which offer no guaranteed work). A zero-hours contract means no job security. New Zealand has banned them. And Unite – the largest union in the UK – wants us to do the same. But not all workers hate zero hours contracts. In fact, 80% of McDonald’s workers are actually pretty happy with no guaranteed hours. Staff say they enjoy the flexibility, which you don’t get with fixed hours.
Breaking the Stigma
But whatever you think about zero hours contracts, this stigma associated with McJobs isn’t helpful. If you’re working for Deliveroo because you want to save some extra cash for some travels, then it’s not a pointless job – it’s helping you achieve something memorable and worthwhile.
Then again, it doesn’t really matter what the reason is that you’re doing a McJob. Maybe you’ve struggled to find a graduate job, skilled work or work relevant to your studies or interests. Maybe you just need any paid job to be able to afford to go out. Maybe you can’t afford to do an unpaid internship. Maybe you have bills which aren’t going to wait while you find your true calling. If you feel even a tinge of embarrassment about doing a McJob, don’t.
A Job Doesn't Define You
It’s bullshit to think that you’re somehow failing at life if you have what society considers a ‘low-status’ job. There’s this saying (falsely attributed to Dr. Seuss) and I really think it’s relevant in this discussion: “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” Basically, anyone who looks down at a McJob isn’t worth spending any time with. The kind of person who will judge you, as a person, for the job you have, is only going to add negativity to your life. Your job might not pay very much, but you could very well be happier than the job snob who’s overworked, strung out and surrounded by toxic co-workers.
The comeback of the McJob is great in some ways, and in other ways, it honestly sucks. The gig economy means that many young people don’t have a reliable income, sick pay, holiday pay, insurance or a retirement plan. On the other hand, it also means that there is more casual and flexible work out there. So yeah – it’s not all doom and gloom. Maybe millennials with degrees have to make fast food deliveries, but the rise of flexible work (especially remote work) at least makes life goals – such as travelling and working in another country – easier to achieve.