This may go down as the most hypocritical thing I’ve ever written. Still, something's telling me to go ahead and write it. Yesterday, our business blogger Melissa Hincha-Ownby told us that McDonald’s will be hiring 50,000 full- and part-time employees across the country on April 19. That’s a lot of jobs in one day.

 

Melissa also commented that although the company pays its part-time employees slightly above the national minimum wage (their average is $8.30/hour; minimum wage is $7.25/hour), even a full-time employee would have an annual salary of $17,000. After taxes, that’s tough to live on.

However, for a high-school student who wants to earn money to save up for college, $8.30 an hour could help build some savings. But here's a dilemma that many readers of this blog might have: McDonald’s food (and most fast food) is not terribly good for people or the environment. Should you encourage your teenager to take a job at any food-fast restaurant?

As a former burger pusher myself, my opinion is that perhaps you should. During my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college, I worked for Burger King. I did it all. I took orders and worked the cash register (when we actually had to figure out the change by ourselves), worked the drive-thru, washed dishes, cooked, and scrubbed the place clean at 3 a.m. many nights.

I learned a lot from working at Burger King — things that helped me form a strong work ethic in college and in all future jobs. I imagine the things I learned at that fast-food chain are the things that many young people learn working at any fast-food chain. Here’s what I learned.

  • An honest job done well is honorable no matter what the job is. Working in a fast-food restaurant is certainly not glamorous, but if you show up on time, work hard while you’re there, and treat your co-workers with respect, you’ll feel proud when you pick up your paycheck.
  • Work can be hard. Before BK, my only work experience was babysitting. It’s wasn’t too hard to play with a child, put her to bed, and then chow down on junk food in front of someone else’s cable TV. At BK, sometimes the work was very hard, but it prepared me for the reality that most jobs are difficult in one way or another.
  • No one is indispensible. Mouthing off to a manager or showing up late too many times can get your fired, even if you’re pretty good at your job. There’s always someone else looking for a job who can fill your shoes. (This is a very important lesson – particularly in today’s economy.)
  • It’s good to play nice with others. At any job, there will be a mix of personalities. The person who can let the unimportant things slide and get along with most people often gets more opportunities and more cooperation when asking for days off or vacation time.
  • A glowing recommendation from a superior can lead to a better job. When it was time to move up in the business world (when I was 18, up meant a clothing store in the mall that paid $1 more an hour), I had no problems.
  • All of those lessons I learned while working at Burger King are lessons that I would love for my children to learn early on in their working careers.
So here’s what I think: I think if a teen wants to work to save up for school or his own car (for school) or something worthwhile and the only job available is at a fast-food restaurant, you should consider letting him take the job. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to make a compromise like this — but, it’s not an ideal world.

If a fast-food restaurant is the only option, I’d be okay with encouraging one of my boys to work there until he could move on (giving his proper two-week notice, of course). I just wouldn’t encourage him to ever eat there.  

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