Three Lessons Learned From Working a Minimum Wage Job

Three Lessons Learned From Working a Minimum Wage Job

Eileen St. Pierre, The Everyday Financial Planner

On the first day of 2014, 13 states raised their minimum wages.   According to the National Employment Law Project, as many as 12 more states and Washington, DC are considering raises in 2014.  Proponents of raising the minimum wage say these increases are needed to move the minimum wage towards a “living wage.”  Those opposed argue this leads to increased costs to businesses, and will result in higher unemployment.

When I became a teenager, working a minimum wage job was expected of me.  I worked at McDonald’s until I left for college, and have fond memories of the experience.  Here are three lessons I learned:

Establishing a Strong Work Ethic

On my first day at McDonald’s, I was given lobby duty.  This meant cleaning the bathrooms, mopping the floors, and taking out the trash.  I guess the managers felt that if I came back to work the next day after seeing how disgusting the men’s bathroom can become, then I was a keeper.  I actually worked my way up to crew trainer.  To this day, my husband is amazed at how I can tie any size trash bag – no twist ties needed.

Working with People from Different Social Backgrounds

It’s human nature to gravitate towards people who are just like us.  Working at McDonald’s exposed me to all different kinds of people.

  • Being the naïve girl that I was, it took me a while to figure out why one of cooks always had blood shot eyes.  He never seemed to get upset at anything.
  • One of my co-workers was accepted into the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.  As soon as the schedule came out, she would calculate how much money she was going to make for the week.
  • During summers I worked full-time during the week.  Different people worked during the week than on nights and weekends.  Many were the sole or main breadwinners for their families, including a wonderful manager named Kathy.

Creating a Sense of Empathy

I think this last lesson is the most important.  According to the Random House Dictionary, empathy is defined as “identification with the feelings or thoughts of another person.”

  • We’ve all seen how mobbed McDonald’s gets during peak meal times.  Every new cashier (including me) broke down during her first rush.
  • A cook intentionally dropped an entire tray of hamburgers because she got tired of the manager nagging her for them.
  • Our maintenance man Glen was such a cool guy.  When his mother died unexpectedly, my parents let me leave school early to go to her funeral with my co-workers.

I chose to work at McDonald’s because I like to cook and be around food.  My husband, a classic gear head, worked in an auto parts store.  We still swap stories of our experiences.  Young people need to determine what interests them and find entry-level jobs that allow them to pursue these interests in some way.  Don’t expect it to be glamorous.  We all need to start somewhere.

This column is also posted on Yahoo!.