Thursday, January 26, 2006

Need a worker? Hire a family.

McDonald’s has often trod down paths that peers overlooked in their quests for employees. It was the first major chain to reach out systematically for elderly recruits, for instance. Ditto for persons with mental disabilities.

But few of those efforts were as startling in their ambition as the recruitment technique Big Mac is trying right now in Great Britain. According to news reports from across the pond, McDonald’s units in six U.K. markets are offering workers a Family Contract, whereby immediate clan members rather than an individual is awarded a job. Members of a family can share a lone job, splitting the hours amongst themselves, or trade off days, without having to alert management. So that if Junior can’t work from 5 to 9 on Wednesday, perhaps Sis could. Or Mom could work from 5 to 6, Grandpa could pitch in from 6 to 8:30, and Elrod, Junior’s 16-year-old little brother, could handle the last half hour. Prior approval isn’t necessary, and McDonald’s is willing to pay each family member in accordance with the hours they log.

It’s a staggeringly bold idea, and the advantages are evident. Suddenly, a job at McDonald’s becomes a family’s side business. They participate as a group in generating additional funds for all. It’s in effect a mutual project, like having a home store, without all of the aggravations.

But the limitations are also obvious. Five potential recruits in effect become one. You also have to assume they can work the hour and day splits out themselves. And how do you handle differences in abilities or commitment? If Elrod’s a dream employee, but Junior’s a pebble in the manager’s shoe, does the youngster get a pay raise, while Junior’s put on probation? Can you fire one family member, but keep the rest of the crew employed?

McDonald’s, in its usual painstaking care on such matters, probably has scenarios already drafted to handle such matters. But it’ll be interesting to see how they fare in real-life tests.


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