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McDonald’s High-Tech Makeover Is Stressing Workers Out (bloomberg.com)
37 points by JumpCrisscross 9 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 65 comments

For the many commenters who clearly did not read the linked article, the issue is not automation eliminating workers' jobs but rather that workers are leaving due to the stress created by new technology such as mobile ordering vastly increasing their workloads without a corresponding increase in salary.

This is a problem because unemployment is currently very low, and the lack of staff leads to longer serving times which leads to fewer customers as they shift to competing chains which are properly staffed to handle crushes.

As I say in my comment, McDonalds states that there is no additional turnover tied to new initiatives. The article fails to make the case it’s trying to make instead opting for a single anecdote by a worker. No data is provided that would tie new tech to increased turnover.

The article states that McD's turnover has increased at the same time as the new tech initiatives were introduced, and far outpaces all of their competitors. It's a clear correlation, especially in the absence of industry-wide causes or other changes to McD's workplace conditions.

  The article states that McD's turnover has increased
It says nothing of the kind. The word "turnover" does not even appear. Turnover means that workers are leaving and are directly replaced; in fact, the article refers only to jobs leaving... for good.

The Bloomberg article this HN discussion links sure does discuss turnover.

  clearly did not read the linked article
The article neither states nor implies that any of that job reduction was by voluntary departure -- did you read it?

The study disagrees with you in even stronger terms:

"we find that increasing the minimum wage decreases significantly the share of automatable employment held by low-skilled workers, and increases the likelihood that low-skilled workers in automatable jobs become nonemployed or employed in worse jobs."

... which hardly seems voluntary.

I'm afraid you're talking about a different article than the one we are discussing here. CTRL-F "minimum" returns 0 results.

There’s not really any information in the article to back up the premise. They interview one worker who complains about getting in trouble when he messes up with new processes. In fact McDonalds directly contradicts the headline:

”McDonald’s and its franchisees haven’t seen an increase in crew turnover over the last year, nor is there a correlation between the new initiatives and turnover, spokeswoman Terri Hickey said in an emailed statement.”

I’m not sure what this article is meant to convey other than a vague swipe at progress.

I went to a McDonald's yesterday. The cashier stepped away from the register as I was walking up. I turned around and walked a few feet to the touchscreen order system and entered my order. At the payment screen it said to take a number card to my table. No number cards were left and 4 people were now in line at the register. I turned around and left. Jack In The Box was down the street.

You can cancel and start again to do a pickup. It's crazy that they don't have a button that says "There are no more number coasters, do pickup instead"

Pickup is the only option for the kiosks at a McDonalds in China. I'm sort of surprised McDonalds in the USA has that option.

For a historical perspective on McDonalds and its defining role over the last 60+ years at the intersection of food, technology, labor, business, and culture, there's hardly a better book than Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation. Old fashioned muckraking journalism at it's best.

>Already, drive-through times at McDonald’s slowed to 239 seconds last year -- more than 30 seconds slower than in 2016, according to QSR magazine. It’s also pokier than Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell.

Can someone describe what “pokier” means in this sentence?


Look up the work poky - this is a derivative of that.

That seems to be a definition specific to North America (so it would apply here). The definition I get for poky is:

"(of a room or building) uncomfortably small and cramped"

As an adjective, it means slow.

As a noun, it generally refers to a detention room, or jail. (For example, on "NYPD Blue", the "poky room" was where they detained suspects for interviews, and within it was a lockable cage.)

Well I would have added lower quality.

Not slow poke?


My favorite fast food place lately is "Salad And Go", not sure how many there are, they're here in Phoenix. Usually from order completion to transaction complete is under 60 seconds. Rarely is there a car between the order box and the window. The hard thing is they have gotten very popular at lunch and the drive-through line is out to the street.

McD's usually gets my orders wrong, not that they're even particularly hard. It's been really hit and miss... I wonder what the satisfaction/turnover at places with smaller menus is... In-n-out, 5-guys, etc.

Wow what a coincidence, I actually just had a terrible experience at McDonald's yesterday. I tried ordering through the mobile app and they got my order wrong. When I went to get this fixed, the employees were busy fixing 3 other orders they had wrong. There's a ton of room for human error when electronic ordering allows for more customization.

I can also see the reason for slowdown. Before, they had a cashier queue to control the flow of orders. Now with mobile and kiosk orders, they've pretty much tripled their traffic of orders while keeping fulfillment the same.

"Last year, McDonald’s said it employed 235,000 people, including corporate and restaurant workers. Each of those people generated $97,000 in revenue, compared to about $65,000 the year before."

I don't understand the problem, McDonalds is not in the business of helping its employees, it is not in the business of creating quality, healthy food. Its business is squeezing as much work and money as it possibly can out of its workers and customers. This is a huge success by that metric, and I am sure it is the only metric the upper management really cares about.

  McDonald’s said it employed 235,000 people, including corporate and restaurant workers
That count represents only the corporation and corporate-owned stores and excludes the employees of franchisees. 1.5 million work for franchisees[0].

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McDonald%27s

As they great more value per employee customer experience and ability to keep staff reduces. Someone will get a bonus while decrease the long term value of the business.

Fast food is the absolute worst job a person can possibly have in the United States. It destroys your body, kills your spirit, and pays less than nothing when you consider the lack of health benefits and high possibility of injury. I did it for years before learning to code, and it's work that no human being should have to do. I don't know what will come next for low skilled people, but I know the world will be a better place when we've reached a point technologically that humans are free from this kind of labor.

Don't you think you're being a little hyperbolic here? Less than nothing? Really?

I worked fast food for 2 years, one full time. I did not mind it one bit, in fact, as far as jobs go, I liked it for the most part - the only really shitty part of it was the terrible pay and smelling like grease after your shift. My sister worked with me and she enjoyed it to. It's also not particularly physically demanding.

Retail, on the other hand, was very soul sucking to me. My hypothesis is I'm sensitive to the bright lights they use in retail stores.

Love retail and selling things. When you work in a fast food retail store like radio shack in the 80/90s customers tell you what they want its great.

>It destroys your body, kills your spirit, and pays less than nothing when you consider the lack of health benefits and high possibility of injury.

I worked out in the woods of the northwest as a logger and would like to disagree. There are certainly jobs that are worse in all the metrics you've listed. Personally, I couldn't wait to get a fast food job after I quit.

I worked at Wendy's during the 1980's (high school) and it wasn't bad. Minimum wage and all, but any problems you encountered started and ended on the same day, so stress wasn't really an issue.

What seems different these days is that most of the workers aren't high school kids. That was the case in the 80's. Something about the job market where people are trying to use entry level fast food jobs to support an adult life.

The adults working at McDonald's as crew today are people who can't get a job anywhere else, or in some cases retirees looking for something to do or a little extra spending money.

I was the same as you, in the eighties I worked at McDonald's and it was pretty fun. 90% of the staff were under 25 years old and most were in school. Either college or still in high school. You could have interesting conversations while you worked and the menu was vastly simpler so it was pretty easy to get the hang of doing everything.

Yeah the pay wasn't great but there wasn't much else a young person could do that paid more, and very few people were trying to support a family or even fully support themselves. There was healthcare for full-timers but it really wasn't as big a deal then. People did not freak and think it was the end of the world not having insurance, and in any case many of them were probably still covered by their parents.

>I worked at Wendy's during the 1980's (high school) and it wasn't bad. Minimum wage and all, but any problems you encountered started and ended on the same day, so stress wasn't really an issue.

That's the whole point of this article though. The workers in a busy McDonalds restaurant today are being expected to make 10x the output you did as a teenager in the 80's for wages that are less than what you made, inflation adjusted. A line cook in 1985 made about $4.50/hr, which is $10.50 in 2018 dollars [0]. In 2018, federal minimum wage is $7.25, and the are plenty of McDonalds employees making that much across the country.

https://www.bls.gov/opub/mlr/1986/09/rpt1full.pdf [0]

I made $3.35 and worked my ass off in 1985. I was genuinely tired, though not stressed at shift end. That 10x thing is pure bullshit. The extra stress is solely because their paycheck is needed to survive, versus for some extra money. I didn't have much idle time. Wendy's had a salad bar then and other things (manual cash registers, less automation, no credit cards, less prefab food, etc) that were arguably more work than today's world. Other stuff, like degreasing the floor at shift end can't be any better or worse now. Didn't need health insurance or other benefits though, and my paycheck went to clothes, booze, and computer/electronic crap. Stuff my Mom wouldn't buy. I wasn't stressing about how much my paycheck was.

  A line cook in 1985 made about $4.50/hr
Not in fast food. Starting wage was usually minimum wage unless market conditions dictated otherwise.

I always loved it in American Beauty when he quits his soul sucking corporate job to go work fast food for the spiritual fulfillment it gives him.

Ahhhh pre-recession optimism.

One of my top 5 five favorite movies...during Lester's interview at the burger joint...

Lester: "Well, I'm sure there have been amazing technological advances in the industry, but surely you must have some sort of training program. It seems unfair to presume I won't be able to learn."

> Fast food is the absolute worst job a person can possibly have in the United States

Having also worked in fast food, I disagree. Manual labor was a whole lot worse on my body and paid basically the same.

Of all of the lousy jobs I’ve had, fast food wasn’t nearly the worst. And If I were forced go back and work any of them tomorrow, I’d still be a happy and healthy person.

Well, I would put a job cleaning out a chicken coop right up there.

High possibility of injury??? as opposed to a Miner Fisherman, Construction Worker Realy?

If this trend continues e.g. more turnover plus longer waits, it seems to me the wage necessary to attract and keep employees will necessarily rise, putting pressure on owners to automate more. Or owners will want to automate more to keep customers coming back, and shortcut more of the employee headaches. No matter how I look at this, more automation is coming.

> Each of those people generated $97,000 in revenue

McDonalds crew members make $8.50 an hour. That's $17,680 at 40 hours a week.


Revenue != Profit. You really have to control all your costs to just break even in fast food. Of course in the case of McDonald's a good bit of that revenue is also going to McDonald's Corp as franchise fees.

I am well aware of the difference. I am simply stating facts about the business model of one of the most successful multinational corporations in the world.

It's food for thought. We should not blind ourselves to the way institutions allocate resources in our society.

McDonalds employees make more than that (~$14 /hr). The real estate that the restaurants sit on is also quite expensive so sucks up a lot of that revenue.

Maybe in your area, but the rest of the country hasn't jumped on the $14 minimum wage bandwagon. $14/hr is management money in the southeast.

It can vary a lot.. much like housing prices in general.

The chart in the article shows that productivity is up, so presumably they can and should be paid more. Turnover may continue until that happens. Market working as intended?

Not sure they see the high turnover as a problem. Apparently there is no lack of new people willing to put on the uniform.

With the lower unemployment there is a lack of quality workers willing to put on the uniform. Someone will be there to give you your burger but it may not be made right or on time or in a clean location.

When I was in high school I worked at McDonalds and it was amazing how old their systems were. Ancient DOS interfaces for everything.

Many economists been warning this for years: increase minimum wages and it will hit the poorest the most.

That is not what the studies actually show.

But that's what is happening in real life, as this article shows.

Perhaps as the pace accelerates, those affected will vote for politicians who want to tax automation revenue and fund safety nets.

Yes. Revenue, not profits. Why? See: Amazon

EDIT: dragonwriter's verbiage is preferred. Better we address it now before pitchforks get handed out.

> Perhaps as the pace accelerates, those affected will vote for politicians who want to tax automation revenue and fund safety nets.

Or, more simply, stop using high taxation on wage labor income to subsidize preferential taxation of capital income.

Poor Americans don't vote. That's why it's so easy to cut the safety nets since there are few political consequences.

Taxing automation would raise prices and hurt the poor the most (McDonalds customers). It’s really not possible to outsmart the market.

>It’s not really possible to outsmart the market.

This is exactly what advertising does, and it works great.

There are other ways, but in any case this assertion is a fantasy.

If this were true, people would be making billions using advertising to push stock prices up and down. The fact is you can make a new market but you can't interfere with pricing without negative side effects.

Yes. It happened in the manufacture of all other consumer goods so why wouldn't it happen in the manufacture of food?

If you look far enough into the future all manual labor will be performed by machines. Don't be afraid of it, be aware of it. Adapt or die.

In the UK the primary change I can tell from a customer perspective is that they shifted processing of orders to be done by the customer. You can order by app or on the touchscreens in store, or there's a single checkout that is only manned on demand - the cashier has drink prep duties, possibly others too (icecreams I think).

This means in my local McDo they've cut the checkouts from 5 down to 1, got rid of probably 2 staff on checkout and pushed that work to customers. They've restructured to make processing more optimised - previously the cashier gathered all items for the order, including packing fries. Now one person does all drinks for all customers and puts them on a stand, sandwiches seem to work the same as before, though they've more specialised ovens from what I can tell. The person picking the order does the fries I think, depending on customer volume.

I know in drive-thru that the person taking orders on the intercom has other duties, that must be a burn-out role, picking orders and doing a customer facing role at the same time (ie in parallel).

Wait time to get food is longer IME (I go about once a month), definitely longer than Burger King now when McDo used to be shorter. If you want to pay cash you have to wait for the checkout too, even when there are no customers ahead of you.

None of this is to do with automated machines (AFAICT) but it makes jobs more easy to shift to machines, eg prepping drinks and placing them on the stand ready to pack in to individual orders.

I'm pretty sure plumbing... or for that matter maintaining any systems subject to random wear, water or grease/debris will likely not be outsourced to machines for a very long time.

I bet it'll be sooner than you think, probably part of the robot revolution that's being constructed in Italy and Japan and so on.

An alternative headline:

Rising Minimum Wages Encourage Automation [0]

[0] https://www.forbes.com/sites/gregoryferenstein/2017/08/27/ne...

Only if you failed to read the article.

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