Progressive Graffiti

McDonald’s Requires Workers to Perform Emotional Labor

I just learned a new term: ‘Emotional Labor.’ It’s what people may consider to be good customer service. That is, making the customer feel special. Now McDonald’s takes this concept to a new height.

A Job at McDonald’s Now Includes Singing and Dancing on Demand

McDonald’s is now asking its employees to do even more. They have to come up with cutesy tasks for their customers. And if the ad itself is any indication, they can’t just deadpan a request that a family hug. If someone dances, they have to dance too. If someone doesn’t seem too pumped to call his mom, they have to needle him into it. And they have to react with joy when the asked-for response is delivered. The workers are being told to put on a performance for customers in order to get a performance back.

This is a pretty blatant example of emotional labor: the requirement that a low-wage employee not just show up to work and adequately perform her duties, but that she put on a veneer of happiness and cheer for the customer to elicit an emotional response in him. For example, in 2013 Pret A Manger put up on its website (and then subsequently took down) expected “behaviours” its employees were supposed to exhibit, like creating a “sense of fun” and appearing “genuinely friendly.” The ones it wouldn’t allow, on the other hand, were bad moods and acting like they were “just here for the money.” Because ordering a sandwich is now supposed to be a delightful experience, and of course a low-wage clerk is at work for something other than a paycheck.

— Bryce Covert, The Nation

About the author

JoAnn Chateau

JoAnn Chateau likes progressive politics and loves the canines. She sometimes writes fiction about Chester (the Alpha Bichon) and his friends -- with a dash of humor and dab of Poli-Sci. JoAnn's views and insights are tinted by her past profession in Counseling, Christian theological studies, and Library and Information Science training. Retired now, JoAnn enjoys the creative life.


  • So the employees are supposed to be “comfort people” or geishas in a Mickey D’s uniform? I can see this kind of personalized service in a very expensive restaurant where tips are large but Mickey D’s??? I have worked there and they drive you like a slave and now they want a show, too? The customers were rude and overdemanding way back then.

    • The company hopes to increase sales – without expense, without working to develop something useful. Of course this tactic will backfire. Most customers will find it embarrassing, as well as a wasteful use of their time in a ‘fast’-food restaurant.

  • Big mistake on McDonald’s part. How many people have decided not to enter their restaurants because they won’t participate in their own and McDonald’s employees’ humiliation. If McDonalds announced significant pay raises for the workers, their business would skyrocket, and there would be no need for humiliating gimmicks. Employees would naturally become more pleasant as their stress levels decrease.

  • It is somewhat desperate, yet it doesn’t cost the corporation anything in terms of money or brain-power. So, they are not yet that desperate.

    Of course customers figure it out. They are people, too. Most of them have previously held, or may currently hold, crappy jobs.

    But I don’t think the American public yet understands that customer service is dead. Really dead. Corporations trumpet ‘the customer is first’ mantra, but that is merely lip service.

    Things have really changed over the years.

    When a company underpays their hired employees so they are less well-fed, can’t afford medical coverage, and have to bus/walk/bike to and from work in all kinds of weather in daylight or dark – workers can not possibly be at peak performance.

    When a company shaves staffing hours from every department, every year, they are demanding their employees do the work of 1.5 people, then the work of 2 people, then the work of 3 people… Customer service is expected to be squeezed in, even as productivity demands increase.

    When a company lags behind in equipment repair, or providing the necessary supplies to get the job done, they both endanger employees and make it much harder/slower to serve customers.

    These practices are not signs of incompetent management, They are actual management goals. You see, corporate headquarters select these tactics as the criteria by which manager employees may earn a bonus.

    No, Virginia, they didn’t by accident under-staff the store during peak hours.

  • I experienced this nonsensical act of corporate desperation first-hand as a bartender in the hotel/casino industry. Like McDonald’s, they were losing customers too.

    It didn’t work. Customers saw through the charade. Employees are human beings first and workers second. They can’t be molded into perfect little automatons in a culturally diverse society such as ours. Even rigid authoritarian societies have trouble maintaining this kind of conformity for very long.

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