McJob is slang for a low-paying, low-prestige job that requires few skills and offers very little chance of intracompany advancement. Such jobs are also known as contingent work. The term McJob comes from the name of the fast-food restaurant McDonald's, but is used to describe any low-status job — regardless of the employer — where little training is required, staff turnover is high, and workers' activities are tightly regulated by managers. Most perceived McJobs are in the service industry, particularly fast food, coffee shops, telemarketing, retail and business-to-business copywriting. Working at a low paying job, especially one at a fast food restaurant, is also referred to as flipping burgers.
"McJob" was in use at least as early as 1986, according to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), which defines it as "An unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector. Lack of job security is common.
The term was coined by sociologist Amitai Etzioni, and appeared in the Washington Post on August 24, 1986 in the article "McJobs are Bad for Kids". The term was popularized by Douglas Coupland's 1991 novel Generation X: Tales for an Accelerated Culture, described therein as "a low-pay, low-prestige, low-dignity, low benefit, no-future job in the service sector. Frequently considered a satisfying career choice by people who have never held one."
The term appears in the 1994 novel Interface (by Neal Stephenson and George Jewsbury) to describe in the abstract positions that are briefly held and underpaid. In the 1999 British film Human Traffic, one character's work in a generic burger outlet is referred to as a McJob.
There are often wide variations in how workers are actually treated depending on the local franchise owner. Some employees start out in entry-level McJobs and later become assistant managers or managers, continuing to work at the same franchise for many years; however this is the exception rather than the norm. McDonald's advertises that its CEO, Jim Skinner, began working at the company as a regular restaurant employee, and that 20 of its top 50 managers began work as regular crew members.
According to Jim Cantalupo, former CEO of McDonald's, the perception of fast-food work being boring and mindless is inaccurate, and over 1,000 of the men and women who now own McDonald's franchises began behind the counter. Because McDonald's has over 400,000 employees and high turnover, Cantalupo's contention has been criticized as being invalid, working to highlight the exception rather than the rule.
The term "McJob" was added to Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary in 2003, over the objections of McDonald's. In an open letter to Merriam-Webster, Cantalupo denounced the definition as a "slap in the face" to all restaurant employees, and stated that "a more appropriate definition of a 'McJob' might be 'teaches responsibility.'" Merriam-Webster responded that "[they stood] by the accuracy and appropriateness of [their] definition."
In 2006, McDonald's undertook an advertising campaign in the United Kingdom to challenge the perceptions of the McJob. The campaign, developed by Barkers Advertising and supported by research conducted by Adrian Furnham, professor of psychology at University College London, highlighted the benefits of working for the organization, stating that they were "Not bad for a McJob". So confident were McDonald's of their claims that they ran the campaign on the giant screens of London's Piccadilly Circus.
On 20 March 2007, the BBC reported that the UK arm of McDonald's planned a public petition to have the OED's definition of "McJob" changed. Lorraine Homer from McDonald's stated that the company feels the definition is "out of date and inaccurate". McDonald's UK CEO, Peter Beresford, described the term as "demeaning to the hard work and dedication displayed by the 67,000 McDonald's employees throughout the UK". The company would prefer the definition to be rewritten to "reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding ... and offers skills that last a lifetime." These comments run counter to the principle that dictionaries simply record linguistic usage rather than judge it, and that dropping the entry for "McJob" would be a precedent for bowdlerising definitions of other derogatory terms.
During the aforementioned arguments that broke out when Merriam-Webster included "McJob" in its new edition, McDonald's officials implied the company might bring a lawsuit against the dictionary based on this trademark issue, but never did so. McDonald's disputes that its jobs are poor, because the company has been nominated for employee awards.