The indignity of service work | My experiences as a fast-food worker | Part 4

Previous part is available here. In it, I begin to describe my experiences as a fast-food worker and how games are used to extract additional surplus value from workers.

This article continues describing games used at foodchain to manage the workforce, maintaining the hegemonic order needed to produce surplus value.

 

The pathetic value and arbitrariness of rewards at foodchain made the punishment aspect of games the main incentive for competition. Some of these punishments, as discussed in the earlier part of this series, were explicit, however, some were seemingly (and possibly) accidental side-effects. For example, the antagonistic relationship between kitchen staff and other workers was compounded by how the games forced these groups of workers to play against each other. Moreover, differences in games and rewards between these groups often created a friction between them, which was very often simply the result of a lack of information about the other groups’ predicaments.

Kitchen staff at foodchain were free from having to compete in the sales competition described in the earlier part of this series. Although this meant they benefitted from being free of the pressure to avoid punishments by failing to succeed at the game, kitchen workers would sometimes express resentment towards other staff as they were much less likely to receive rewards. Rewards in the kitchen were given completely arbitrarily, despite those workers having their own games to participate in.

One of the games kitchen workers played was essentially trying to minimise waste and it effectively forced them to play against workers in other production areas. For example, kitchen staff would often inadvertently make other production staff, such as those tasked with actually putting a burger together, or those who package and deliver the final products, fail to be successful at their games. In one case, it could be that in order to minimise waste kitchen workers decide to cook less chicken, in turn causing those tasked with making burgers to fail to reach their production timing targets.

Similarly, till workers would often be forced to make the difficult decision between making a customer wait thus risking them complaining, or not selling additional products which they are required to sell for their leaderboard game described earlier. All of these situations produce antagonisms between different workers despite being a result of contradictions inherent to the style of management being applied.

Returning to the position I am most familiar with, inequity was a condition of several other aspects of working front-of-house at foodchain. Beyond the unfairness of rewards and punishments, and the arbitration involved in the allocation of them, the game itself was rigged. Firstly, the types of additional items that counted towards player scores would rarely change, yet the item one was obligated to suggestively sell changed per which items were on promotion. This meant that one could be generating additional sales as requested by management, yet because it was the wrong type of additional sale according to the electronic system which calculated the leaderboard scores, you could lose the game despite producing the most revenue.

Also, temporal contingencies contributed to the game’s being unfair as working during peak service hours limited the amount of time workers had to suggestively sell. For example, working at lunch time might mean management tells workers to serve as many customers as possible without trying as hard to get additional sales, as during such busy times it meant more overall revenue. Again however, this meant the worker sacrificed their opportunity to compete on the additional sales leaderboard so penalisation was more likely for them- especially unfair considering it could be a different manager, or the manager might simply forget about why a worker could not properly compete, when the leaderboards were considered on a later date.

 

In the next part of this series, I will expand upon the methods of control employed at foodchain, how they contribute to the hegemonic order, and how certain methods of control reveal an, at least implicit, awareness of that order.


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