McDonaldization of work in Indian fast-food industry.

AuthorBathini, Dharma Raju
PositionReport - Abstract


Many studies have examined the nature of work in the fast-food industry (see Gould, 2009). There is a debate about the dehumanizing nature of work in this industry. Several studies have reported pervasive supervisory control, poor pay, work hustling and poor growth prospects (Royle, 1999). Standardization and routinization is seen as resulting in such dehumanizing nature of work (Ritzer, 2011). Standardization and routinization of work have also been the central themes of such research (Leidner, 1993; Ritzer, 2011).

Levitt (1972) describes how production line approach can be adopted to service industries to improve quality, efficiency and uniformity. Further, he attributes the success of McDonald's as a fast-food chain to the replication of such conditions in its organization. Following McDonald's, many other fast-food chains, successfully replicated such environment. According to Mayhew and Quinlan (2002), the fast-food industry produces standardized products and services using work routines that are standardized by deskilling of tasks and minute division of labor. The implication of such standardization has gone beyond the fast-food industry to affect the society at large. Ritzer (2011:1) defines McDonaldization as "the process by which the principles of fast-food restaurants are coming to dominate more and more sectors of American society as well as of rest of the world."

Indian fast-food industry is of considerable size and has been growing rapidly (Parker, 2009). It consists of several multinational as well as local Indian brands. Multinational chains dominate the market at present with nationwide presence. In their efforts to create their nationwide presence, the domestic firms tend to copy the products and operational procedures of the foreign companies. While the nature of work in the multinational brands has widely been examined, studies in the Indian context are surprisingly low. The present paper therefore aims to address this issue. As standardization and routinization of work is seen as central to the fast-food work nature, the study discusses these aspects first. It then goes on to discuss the opposition to such standardization alongside exploitative working conditions.


Ritzer (2011) identifies four different dimensions of the McDonaldization. First is efficiency, which is about optimum method of doing work. The entire process at McDonald's is broken down into simple, repetitive tasks. Further, each task is perfected over time, in order to reduce any unnecessary movement and the layout of the work place is designed to facilitate speed and efficiency. Second, calculability is the idea of quantifying in order to remove subjectivity or discretion. At McDonald's such measurement is pervasive. The raw material patties are measured and cut according to pre specified sizes, and the time it takes to complete each step is clearly defined. Several indices like the number of customers served in a day, the number of customer complaints received, and the level of customer satisfaction, help the management keep track of its performance.

Third, at the heart of McDonald's, success is uniformity and predictability. The food is supposed to taste same everywhere and over time and is served quickly and courteously. Uniformity is achieved by institutionalizing the 'best way'. Detailed procedures mention precisely how to carry out each step of the entire process and how long it should take to carry out each step. These procedures are encoded in standard manuals. At McDonald's, the "six steps of the window service", describe the rules for standard attitudes and demeanors as well as actions and words in detail (Leidner, 1993). Fourth, control is exerted through close surveillance and supervision in order to ensure adherence to routines.

Demeaning Work?

One of the criticisms of fast-food industry comes from the demeaning nature of the work (Allan et al., 2006). In fact, so much has been the criticism that the term McJobs (McDonaldized jobs), has evolved to refer to jobs which are demeaning in nature. Merriam Webster's collegiate dictionary defines McJobs as those jobs that are "a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement", this kind of job is demeaning, alienating and "not big enough for the human spirit" (Mayhew & Quinlan, 2002).

Braverman's labor process theory is central to the criticism of fast-food work. He argued that exploitative capitalist organizations are incessantly looking to deskill and routinize the work. Tasks are broken down into small and simple steps, which make it easier to standardize and automate work. Ritzer (2011) quotes one of the employees at a fast-food center noting, "Any trained monkey can do this job." Workers use only a part of their skills and abilities. The employees' decision-making and discretion is removed by routinizing the work. Such deskilled labor is not only cheap but also easy to control.

Ritzer (2011) argues that McDonaldization is dehumanizing in many ways. He contends that there is irrationality in the seemingly rational system of standardization. The process of standardization leads to loss of enchantment, as anything that is considered as magical, mysterious, fantastic and dreamy is considered inefficient. The qualitative aspects of work are lost in the mad rush for quantitative aspects and efficiency. The job becomes boring after a while, as the worker has to repeat the same steps at a great speed. Moreover, the tight control imposed in the work place lead to loss of autonomy and control.

There is little skill enhancement, little prospect for future growth and high turnover (Mayhew & Quinlan, 2002). Therefore, these jobs are perceived as "dead-end" or "short-gap". The stop-gap perspective sees the job as temporary and a trade-off between immediate material needs and doing a mundane, repetitive job (Gould, 2009). In addition, satisfying personal relations between the employees are not likely to develop due to the part time and temporary nature of the job

Studies found work intensification (Allan et al., 2006). The managers try to hurry up the workers, to get the work done faster. This exhortation to hustle was found to be widely prevalent in McDonald's management ethos. In brief, the work does not offer either job satisfaction or stability leading to high level of resentment, job dissatisfaction, alienation, absenteeism, and turnover.

Young & Vulnerable Workers

Several studies take a view that fast-food industry specifically recruits certain sections of society. Several authors (Lucas, 1997; Lucas & Ralston, 1996; Curtis & Lucas, 2000; Royle, 1999 as cited in Allan et al., 2006), contend that fast-food industry recruits young and vulnerable workers as they are compliant and flexible. Another study (Mayhew & Quinlan, 2002), mentions that fast-food industry grew with young and temporary workers and that in future it is reliant on these workers. According to Robinson (as cited in Gould, 2009), fast-food employers prefer teenagers because these workers cannot adequately assess if they are being treated fairly and reasonably which is in turn due to their lack of prior exposure to employment. According to Royle (1999), because of this lack of prior exposure, these young workers have little else with which to compare their working conditions. These workers can therefore, be made to toil in ways other experienced workers resist to (Royle, 2000; Schlosser, 2002 as cited in Gould, 2009). Gould (2009) found that chronologically older employees were more likely to be dissatisfied with work in fast-food industry.

Royle (1999) also argues that, in various countries, McDonald's employs weaker and marginalized sections who lack alternative employment opportunities. Because the workers desperately need the job, they are not likely to resist...

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