My Secret Life on the McJob, by Jerry Newman


Jerry M. Newman, Ph.D., Professor at the University at Buffalo School of Management worked undercover, over a 14-month period, in seven fast food restaurants across the country, observing operations. He felt that fast food chains were the perfect petri dishes for undercover research, having high pressure, high volume, high turnover and a pecking order that was clear from the preparation table up to the store manager.

He worked at 6 franchise owned stores, including Burger King, Wendy’s, Arby’s, and one corporate owned McDonald.  His findings may have been different in independent owned stores and small regional chains. 

Newman’s book, "My Secret Life on the McJob: Lessons from Behind the Counter”, is characterized as a tell-all. The work force he studied really is different and the book opens our eyes to a different side of day to day work relationships.

Newman said: “My research strongly suggests that recognition for a job well done by the store manager was found to be a highly valued as a reward by employees, but the store managers were not authorized to give bonuses and raises were often 10 to 20 cents an hour. The most helpful reward an employee could receive from the store manager was to be given more work hours a week.  (When your only work reward is to work more then something is wrong with the basic work & pay model)

Newman said: In three of my jobs I spent the first day watching training DVD’s and he was critical of that process of training saying it was boring. The segment on hand washing was typical, showing an employee spending 10 minutes on hand washing with the heavy focus on the process rather than the why.  It would have been interesting to have feedback on whether the employees really did wash their hands.   

Newman said most of the stores had significant numbers of employees from minority groups and most stores didn’t practice racial discrimination, but they didn’t practice “inclusion” either. (Isn’t inclusion a tool of discrimination?) Individual differences just didn’t work well in stores that have a one size fits all layout and procedure manual.  

Some racial problems were the result of the managers work assignments when one group consistently got undesirable assignments. The conclusion that the fast food industry strives for diversity in its work force just assumes the motive is doing what is right and ignores the reality of why it may be driven by “what will work and what won’t.”


The book presents an employee view of a challenging work environment and can be of value in finding ways to motivate and create a positive work environment. The overall conclusion was that morale and motivation in these types of stores was mostly the result of the store manager. Small adjustments by the store manager in management style resulted in positive changes and big differences. (Doesn’t this suggest too much on the store managers shoulders ?) Some stores were great, and they had great managers. Some were not great at all.

(The book left me wondering how a white collage professor in these type of stores really got the real feel of the environment, but he seems to believe he did?)