Minimum Effort for Minimum Wage

1 Oct

It’s a situation I think every fast food manager is familiar with.

The classic setup:

You’re inspecting the work of a crew member, usually a cleaning task but sometimes work that is central to the job (such as the wrap of a sandwich).  It’s not good enough.  The table base is still dirty, the wall still has spots, or the sandwich looks like a really cute baby slapped it several times while giggling.

You know how babies do that when they discover something cool, especially if it’s a squishy something cool.  But I digress.

You inform the employee that the task is not done properly and tell them they have to redo it.  They say the task is “good enough,” and that since you only pay them minimum wage, you only get their minimum effort.

That sickens me on two levels, and I let my employees know it sickens me on two levels, One Minute Reprimand style.

On the first level comes the ridiculously high current minimum wage.  In Ohio, state minimum wage is higher than federal minimum wage, so we must pay our folks $7.70 per hour.  And, on January 1, 2013, it will rise to $7.85 per hour.

I didn’t make anywhere near that for my entire stint in hourly management!

As unpopular opinion as this is, I think that fast food crew are overpaid because of the minimum wage.  The job responsibilities of a crew member are not commensurate with the federal minimum wage, let alone the higher Ohio one.

Of course, I always get, “Was gas as high as it is now?  Did the food here cost almost $7 for some sandwiches?  Were any other prices this high?”  Of course, the answer to all of that is NO.  And the crew member folds her arms in superiority.  She won against her know-it-all manager.

Then I explain the second way that response sickens me: the deontolgical response.  This is almost a fancy, philosophical way of saying “guilt trip.”  The hypothetical crew person can’t win against this.  It is best illustrated with an example:

If you go to McDonald’s and order something off the Dollar Menu, receive it, and find out that the sandwich wasn’t made the way you ordered it or the meat was raw, you’d take it back, right?

Or if you went to Wal-Mart and bought something on clearance, then found out it was defective or broken, you’d return that, right?

Of course.

Because if you pay for something, even if you pay bottom dollar, you expect that it will fit the needs for which you bought it.  And if it doesn’t, then you complain and expect that the store will fix it.

Well, what if the McDonald’s employee told you that since you bought a Dollar Menu item, you only get the minimum possible effort McDonald’s can muster?  Sometimes that equates to “baked under a heat lamp all day” or “served raw.”

What if the Wal-Mart employee said that since this was a clearance item, that you had no right to complain since you didn’t pay full price?  Only general sale items or full price items can be returned.

I’m sure you’d be fired up and pissed.  You’d be asking for high-up managers or writing letters to the respective parent corporations.

Well, how do you think your manager feels at the utterance of “Minimum effort for minimum wage”?

The point: it doesn’t matter what the restaurant is paying a worker.  They have an expectation of how the worker is going to perform, and every right to coach the worker to complete tasks properly.  Or terminate the worker if the worker won’t comply.

“Deontological ethics” are practices you have a duty to perform.  I believe that if a worker agrees to a wage, minimum or otherwise, then they have a duty to put for the best effort every time they are clocked in and collecting money.  If the money isn’t right, don’t take the job.

“Minimum effort for minimum wage” is the attitude of a loser.  Yes, I couched in strong terms because I feel that strongly about it.  If workers can’t be coached properly and they cling to this mantra and the piss-poor attitude that always accompanies it, they need to be replaced immediately.


19 Responses to “Minimum Effort for Minimum Wage”

  1. Melodie October 7, 2012 at 12:43 am #

    Hello and thank you for this blog.

    I haven’t read this offering yet as I’m catching up reading everything prior to it. Please consider adding buttons at the top or bottom of the page that allows the visitor to go to page two, three, etc. instead of having to scroll to the bottom and select more posts and then scroll to the bottom again. This type of organization will increase the speed of service.



    • Melodie October 7, 2012 at 1:14 am #

      Hello and thank you for this blog.

      I spoke of “the minimum wage” with my owner manager recently as it applies to the work ethics of teenagers. Fast food is hard work as is all food service for the simple fact that there are a large number of tasks that have to be accomplished efficiently in order to serve the customer in a way that makes them want to return to your establishment. And they all have to be pulled off in a way that looks effortless to the customer, providing that relaxed “hey thanks for coming in, we have plenty of time to serve your needs” sort of feeling. The point being made was that when I was a teenager, I did the same amount of work for $3.50 an hour and that was big money. Yes, everything was less expensive. The cost of living wasn’t what mattered so much as my work ethic. Did I appreciate the wage/ having a job and was I willing to prove it by showing up early and working my tail off. Sometimes I think my work ethic is too strong as I get thoroughly pissed when the teens want to talk, text, and basically shirk the job they are getting paid to do. Especially when I feel like I’m incapable of teaching them a cense of responsibility and urgency for their duties or being able to somehow motivate them by demonstrating those qualities myself. (for a mere $1 ish an hour more) They seem content to stand still and watch me get it done, or to complain to upper management when I ask them to do it in a way that doesn’t please them. Or, they simply disrespect me to my face since management has given me no real authority as a shift lead yet all of the responsibility if the job doesn’t get done. Not to mention, if they do go to the owner/manager and complain about my leadership style, he comes down hard on me and tells me I have to be their friend without even asking me what went down in the first place. It kind of puts me in a precarious position. And quite frankly it’s poor management. Personally, I think that 3/4 minimum wage is acceptable the first 90 days. In my state, you can fire an employee in the first 90 days without them being elligible for unemployment. After that, problems have to be documented for them to not qualify. So, with my 3/4 wage idea, if an employee proves themself as reliable with a strong work ethic, they are bumped up to full minimum wage at any time in that first 90 days the hiring official deems appropriate. I.e. when it’s been earned. If not, the option is with the hiring official to lengthen the period for another 90 days or let the employee go. Consider it a training wage. That way, if a teen wants the job, they have to prove it by doing it and learning to do it well. Everybody wins. And I don’t have to beg my employees to do their job. I have literally asked employees “do you like your job here?” and then proceeded to inform them that they need to step it up if they want to keep it. It’s very frustrating managing teenagers! Please put your cellphone in the basket as you enter the building…..



  2. James October 24, 2012 at 7:32 pm #

    I respectfully disagree with this notion. People should have a strong work ethic for themselves. Minimum wage does not support a decent/acceptable standard of living. It doesn’t pay for medical care, it doesn’t pay for anything above the bare minimum of rent and crap food.

    Minimum wage equals minimum effort because people need to work other jobs/financial pursuits in order to get by. If you pay 100% of my financial needs than I’ll give you 100%. Accordingly, anything less gets less effort.

    I work 100% towards goals and self employment jobs. I never worked 100% in any min wage job. And you know what it got me? A strong independently successful freeelance business. There would be no point in putting extra effort into a piss job.

    • Cory Tucholski October 25, 2012 at 2:59 am #

      I believe you should strive for excellence wherever you happen to be. If the job is not paying your bills or buying your dinner, move on. Don’t hang out and drag everyone else down with you just so you can make a few extra bucks while you wait for your “real career.”

      My impression of you from this comment is that you are very self-centered and NOT a team player. Not the kind of worker I want on my team. You are better off freelancing, where all you have to worry about is yourself.

  3. Mojo June 14, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    You sir, are the loser. You get exactly what you pay for, and you pay little, you get little in return. Expecting perfect performance from an employee for a non-living wage(you cannot live on minimum wage alone)is unreasonable and asinine. It’s downright GREEDY to want more than what you paid for. You want top performance from your employees, give them top pay. You want to pay minimum wage, you are going to get minimum effort, and you don’t deserve anything more than that. You sir, sicken ME.

    • Cory Tucholski June 15, 2013 at 12:58 am #

      I used to make minimum wage. My first management job was over $2 less per hour than minimum wage currently is. Guess what? I worked just as hard as I do now, making quite a bit more than minimum wage.

      People like you are the reason we are a nation dependent on government handouts and welfare. Work hard, whatever you do and whatever you make. You’ll eventually be trusted with more responsibility and eventually more money. Work like crap at minimum wage and that is all you’ll ever make.

      It’s as simple as that.

  4. Mel Lincoln June 21, 2013 at 5:47 pm #

    I work in Washington State at a local fast food restaurant that is family owned but follows the classic management styles of other fast food burger joints. Anyways as co-manager I am responsible for many things including employee evaluations that I pass on to the owner and he takes into consideration my input when making pay raises (the only things I’m not in charge of are marketing and bookkeeping and payroll). That ended 4 years ago when Washington forced pay increase out of our hands and we now pay all employees $9.19 an hour. My base hourly pay is 10.25 per hour and to make more I am eligible for monthly bonuses based on performance and profit. some months I make 10.50 an hour (January/February) and others I may make up to $20.00 an hour. My point is that the more I put myself into the job and working the store the more it pays me. To pay employees that are hired and trained at 9.19 an hour is absolutely ridiculous and costs my store thousands of dollars each month in paying out for labor. I completely agree that minimum wage should be lower and when it is a company can increase the pay to valuable employees who have shown that they earn the money they make.

    • Georgia Hegner May 8, 2018 at 7:37 pm #

      So you want your business to survive off of the sole generosity of others? Sorry but if I wanted to volunteer my time I would be working in a soup kitchen.
      Actually I would work in an animal shelter. Animals are cute.
      But the problem with your logic is that you have the upper hand. You don’t. You are trying to buy something very valuable from your employees: their time and effort (and in many cases sanity) if they aren’t benefiting from the relationship why should they keep it up? If the relationship isn’t beneficial to them why should they make it beneficial to you. There are more jobs like yours than their are employees. If they get fed up with you they will be able to go pick up another minimum wage job elsewhere. Fireing isn’t a consequence because you aren’t offering anything of value. You need to take a reality check and reevaluate where you stand. Without employees your business cant survive, without you your employees will find a comperable job in days.

  5. Ivan Johnson January 30, 2014 at 7:19 pm #

    Gentlemen, there is no free lunch! We are not communists. You must pay your workers a wage commensurate with the work they put in. I was very happy to get my $1.70 per hour at my first restaurant job in 1973, That money put gas in my car and allowed me to realize the value of a days work. So, ten dollars an hour in today’s adjusted dollars actually significantly less than the wages I received working at my first job at a pizzeria. Everyone would love an employee that works for free – and if that were possible, we could all have a staff of thousands. If you have an issue with staying above water, then you must raise the prices on your burgers and fries (and pizza)!

    • Ivan Johnson February 5, 2014 at 2:24 pm #

      Let me add that minimum-wage employees have overhead, just like the rest of us. There are expenses for public transportation (the worker has to get to work); clothing (I don’t think an employer wants homeless attire or nakedness in the workplace); food (even a low-paid worker has to eat); shelter (in many cases, the low-paid worker has to at least share rental of accommodations) and so on. So, an employer should be capable of taking these factors into consideration unless they’re simply delusional, in which case they should be avoided as employers.

  6. Nex March 4, 2014 at 5:33 pm #

    As a person who did work a minimum wage job last summer I want to offer my 3 cents (you can agree or not with me but this is how it looks like through eyes of an employee):

    Minimal wage job will generally be a stop-gap measure. Either a job for the summer or a job for the time being while looking for something better. In other words – the employee will not plan on sticking around longer than he or she will need to. If asked “where do you see yourself x years from now” the only honest answer is “Far away from here”.

    Another problem being that minimum wage jobs only run on negative reinforcement. You do a shitty job you’ll get yelled at and threatened. You do a good job you’ll generally just get more stuff to do. In other words – you’re being punished for doing things well. So all bottom employees reach a sort of a productivity plateau, where they will do as little work as possible without attracting criticism.

    • labor law June 17, 2014 at 6:03 pm #

      Nex, you should read the book or see the movie “Diary of Wimpy Kid: Rodderick Rules.” The basic premise, don’t ever do your best, or you’ll just get more work to do.

      As the author of this blog correctly states “‘Minimum effort for minimum wage’ is the attitude of a loser.”

  7. Mai Naym May 29, 2014 at 2:32 pm #

    I’ll just say this, I currently work fast food and it’s not enough to live off of. I use to be the ideal worker and took pride in my job. I’d come in early, I’d stay late if I was asked to, I worked double shifts (sometimes 17 hour days), fill in when needed, did all my tasks as well as I could, cross-trained, learned all the positions, I’m great with customers, I’m knowledgeable about our products, and anything you can think of. You know what I got for it? Nothing. I didn’t get a raise until the minimum wage went up and then I made a nickel over it. I’ve been here for 3 years and I think I deserve better for all the effort I put into my job. So, like an adult, I asked my manager if I could have a raise–nothing crazy but a little appreciation for me picking up the slack of other employees she does nothing about. She said plain as day: “I don’t think you deserve it.” I almost lost it.

    She is a shit manager who does nothing but bitch about employees and does nothing about it. She does anything she can to get out of the hours she scheduled herself for. For example, she called in a manager 3 hours early saying she had to take her son to a doctor’s appointment. 15 minutes after she left the store, she posted on Facebook: FLORIDA HERE WE COME! She barely does what she needs to as a manager when she’s here. She’s always on her phone to hook up with guys behind her husband’s back. Please don’t sit on your high horse pretending that all managers are great workers. They’re not all the same.

    Why should I put in all of my effort if I’m just going to get paid the same shit wages no matter how hard I work? Even a little appreciation is great. I’d still like to be paid more but I’d like to have my hard work (which is way higher than the other employees) acknowledged. But no. I’m making the same pay as the rest of these worthless sacks of shit. You should stop being so fucking greedy and expecting more back than what you’re going to give out. No one wants to work for an unappreciative asshole.

    • 5inHouse June 29, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

      To the author and managers reading this: it is YOUR responsibility to motivate and encourage teamwork.

      If your opinion is to only expect high results, but treat people as nothing more than just expendable employees, you will get the type of environment that you create.

      If you do not feel that this applies to you, I encourage you to continue motivating your team to perform better. A good manager continually seeks to improve performance in their workers. A good manager will have people dedicated, but it is YOUR responsibility to tap into that resource.

    • James F. December 15, 2016 at 8:42 pm #

      Did all this and more for a retail company.
      Manager was sleeping with assistant manager, gave her friends a position I was already promised.
      Managers don’t give a shit about their employees. Retail and food unions are already simmering. Companies and the psychopaths that run them get all they deserve. Takes 3k to get a new employee up to speed. Have fun shitheads. I’ll never take the time to learn another customers name ever again. Enjoying going to stores and watching employees cycle in and then vanish a week or so later, week after week. Employee retention is a nine figure industry and market opportunity for anyone that can figure it out.

  8. Sarah October 21, 2015 at 4:34 pm #


    I agree almost completely! I myself worked minimum wage for almost 3 years and gave my all every single day before I was given a raise, but I ended up leaving that job due to drama within the store.

    Anyways, next job I got when I was asked my previous wage I straight out told the owner in the interview that i was making 11.25, but all I am expecting is minimum wage because he personally has not seen my work ethic yet. Needless to say I think he was thankful for that, and appreciated it all the more once he seen me work. Three months later , I had already received two raises and am the assistant manager for the store. 🙂

    If you want the raises, I strongly believe you need to give the effort all the time. Why should someone pay you any money if you aren’t going to hold your end of the agreement. You are hired to work, not chat, text or lounge around. If you want to chat with other members of a team which I strongly encourage, learn to multi-task as you do so. 🙂

    • Angelos October 15, 2016 at 7:44 pm #

      Exactly!! Nobody is going to give you a raise if you don’t give a sh1t about their business. This is the plain truth. If you’re costing them money they sure as hell won’t be giving you more money. Truth be told, the first 2 months are the money it costs them to train you, after this point they are reaping their investment, which is why you got a pay rise. It’s good to see that you’re getting on at work! 🙂

  9. Georgia Hegner May 8, 2018 at 7:24 pm #

    No but when I go to Wal-Mart I expect crap products because that’s what I’m paying. In fast food places I expect crap food because that’s what I’m paying. If you pay crap money expect to get crap back, and if that’s all you need then that’s fine. If the sweatshirt that I bought at Wal-Mart when I was desperately cold one day falls apart after a few uses I ‘ll shrug and throw it out because I payed crap money. If I buy a Spider sweatshirt and it falls apart after a few wears that’s an issue, I spent a lot of money and expected it to last a long time. That’s getting what you paid for. You seem like you want to shop at Wal-Mart, at Wal-Mart prices, and get the Spider sweatshirt.


  1. Top 50 Restaurant Management Blogs | Point Blank | Direct Capital - August 27, 2014

    […] Minimum Effort for Minimum Wage […]

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