McDonald’s has some unlikely company in at least one aspect of its labor practices: Starbucks.
This week, Starbucks announced that it would encourage its baristas to write “Race Together” on coffee cups and engage customers in conversation about the state of race relations in the United States. The company is also giving its employees stickers and placing inserts in newspapers to get the conversations rolling.
CEO Howard Schultz says the initiative comes out of his desire to show that “we at Starbucks should be willing to talk about these issues in America” after Michael Brown’s death in Ferguson, Missouri. It’s admirable that an executive is taking interest in social issues, rather than only fixating on protecting his own profits. But instead of doing something about it himself, Schultz is putting the onus on his workers—and asking them to go above the normal duties of a low-wage coffee house employee for no extra pay.
In so doing, his company joins the likes of McDonald’s and several other low-wage employers. Today’s underpaid employees are increasingly asked to do more than show up for their shifts on time, perform their duties, and do so politely. Now many employers are also asking them for something more: putting on a performance along with serving up a burger or a Frappuccino. Ahead of Valentine’s Day, McDonald’s ran a campaign where employees were asked to randomly pick customers who could “pay with lovin” instead of money if they danced, called their mom or hugged someone nearby. In reality, that required McDonald’s employees, who make just above minimum wage, to put on a show of excitement and enthusiasm on top of work that can be so rushed and intense that it leads to physical harm.
McDonald’s wasn’t the first employer to demand this kind of work from its employees. In 2013, Pret a Manger posted expectations of its workers: they should create a “sense of fun” and not act like they were “just here for the money.” (It later removed the requirements from its website.) It didn’t clarify what else an employee shows up for if not money. But more and more employers want their workers to pretend they get something out of work other than compensation. Some sociologists estimate that half of all jobs require emotional labor today, up from just a third in 1983.