For all of the grief that supposed “burger flippers” receive from those who’ve never had to deal with the arduous, fast-paced nature of hourly kitchen work, there’s rarely much consideration lent to the effects that such work has on a person over time. A new Vox feature by journalist Emily Guendelsberger not only illustrates this general gap in knowledge, but draws attention to how much more severe those effects are becoming in this era of digital micromanagement.
Guendelsberger examines burnout and job stress as seen through three working-class American jobs: fast food, call centers, and Amazon warehouses. With respect to fast food, she explores how productivity has become such a priority for chains that the health and stress levels of employees are as low on the totem pole as they’ve ever been. She notes in particular that “...everything is timed and monitored digitally, second by second. If you’re not keeping up, the system will notify a manager, and you will hear about it.”
With everything from shift hours to work assignments now determined based on real-time data, restaurants like McDonald’s (where Guendelsberger spent her time) are run on statistics, which causes issues from unreasonable commutes to impossible demand on employees. While its positive impact on efficiency is undeniable, it also normalizes a work culture in which movement is relentless, rest is nonexistent, and employees are pushed to and beyond their limits on a regular basis. Combined with the pressures of customer interaction, it makes for an inhospitable workplace in general.
While little of this will be surprising to anybody who’s ever worked in fast food, it’s still a potent reminder that analytics are infrequently built to take the human costs of productivity into account. And Guendelsberger’s final line is haunting, in its illustration of the reluctant willingness fast food employee often have to adopt for the sake of remaining employed. When asking her manager about being pelted with food by angry customers, the manager simply replied: “You have a family to support. You think about your family, and you walk away.”
Takeout PSA: as always, be good to fast food employees, because you have no godly idea what they’ve been through that day, or that week, or throughout the course of their career in the industry. That burger flipping job is no walk in the park, as the in-depth Vox piece makes clear.