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McDonaldization is the process by which the principles of the fast food industry have come to dominate an increasing number of organizations in modern society. This concept is the central thesis of The McDonaldization of Society 5, a book by George Ritzer. George Ritzer is a highly revered sociologist famous for his works exploring the effect of McDonalization on society. While the effects of McDonaldization can be seen all around us, people disagree on whether they are good or bad. Although McDonaldization has pros and cons, I believe that the positive effects that it has had on society outweigh the negative effects.
The theory of Mcdonaldization identifies four primary principles which govern the actions of McDonaldized organizations; efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. Efficiency refers to an organization's ability to perform its various functions as quickly, and for the lowest cost, as possible. Some examples of organization's attempts to increase efficiency include ATMs, self-checkout stands at the grocery store, and fast food drive-thru windows. Although efficiency is often advertised as a benefit to the consumer, and sometimes is, it can lead to several drawbacks. ATMs and self-checkout stands can take longer than traditional systems and force customers to perform work that was originally performed for them.
Calculability refers to the element of McDonaldization by which everything in an organization is quantifiable. This often leads to quantity as a replacement for quality. This can be seen in fast food commercials which focus on the large size and small cost of hamburgers instead of the taste. It also has ties to efficiency (it is easier to identify efficient or inefficient processes if they are quantifiable) and predictability. Predictability is the process by which organizations eliminate any unexpected or unwanted outcomes, as well as any surprise or variability at all, in products and services. An example of this is that any mall in a given geographical region generally has the same shops and a similar layout as compared with any other mall in the given region.
The final principle of McDonaldized organizations is control. This largely refers to the control of humans through nonhuman technologies. Nonhuman technologies are technologies, such as barcode scanners, computers, or even rules and regulations, which remove human variability from processes and control people. Obviously this has a strong connection to predictability as well (Ritzer, 2008).
What different perspectives can we use to analyze McDonaldization?
In the book Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership, the authors, Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal, suggest using frames to analyze the effects of socological phenomenons, such as McDonaldization, on society. Frames are essentially different perspectives which individuals can use to interpret situations, make judgements, analyze organizations, ect. The author suggests four frames: the structutal frame, human resource frame, symbolic frame, and the political frame. I feel that the structural, human resource, and symbolic frame are useful in analyzing McDonaldization.
The structural frame is highly goal-oriented and systematic. It focuses on tasks, facts, and logic.This is definitely the most pervasive frame used by leaders such as Ray Kroc and those at other McDonaldized institutions. The four cornerstones of McDonaldization, efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control, are a major result of this almost purely structural perspective of the organization. After all, the primary metaphor for organizations under the structural frame is that of a machine or factory. One could argue that the characteristics valued in machines or factories are the very same characteristics that culminate in the four cornerstones of McDonaldization. Furthermore, the structural perspective is heavily concerned with rules, policies and technology, another striking similarity to McDonaldization which uses stringent rules and procedures and relies on nonhuman technology to achieve its goals of predictability and efficiency (Bolman & Deal, 2008).
Another characteristic of McDonaldization and leaders in McDonaldized organizations which occurred to me while researching Ritzer's theory is their equivalence to systemizers. Systemizers see organizations through a structural frame and rely on numbers and calculations to analyze organizations. They do not focus on the human aspect of organizations (Leavitt, 2007). I feel that McDonaldized organizations share the same perspective as systemizers and encourage the development of systemizers within themselves. Not only are employs treated in a theory X, systemizing manner but so are customers. Customers are herded in, processed, and shipped out like cattle in a slaughter house.
At this point I would like to briefly discuss the selection of the term McDonaldization to explain this societal phenomenon. I understand that McDonaldization is just a term used to describe the spread of characteristics valued by many modern organizations, and I will admit it is a creative one, however McDonalds was far from the first organization to implement this very structural system focusing on factors such as efficiency, calculability, predictability, and control. Earlier figures, such as Fredrick Taylor and Henry Ford, implemented these characteristics long before Ray Kroc and McDonalds. Perhaps the title of Ritzer's central concept should have been Taylorization or Fordization.
The human resource frame suggests that organizations exist to fulfill the human needs of consumers and employees alike. I feel that the human resource frame by far has the weakest representation within McDonaldized organizations and the limited implementation of it which we do see is very superficial. The human resource frame sees organizations as an extended family that is concerned with people, relationships, skills, and empowerment (Bolman & Deal, 2008). These elements clash with the principles of efficiency, predictability, control, and calculability so they have been all but eliminated. This is part of the reason that McDonalds tends to higher teenagers or young, uneducated people. These people are easier to control and more willingly accept the mind-numbing, repetitive tasks associated with McDonaldized jobs.
If McDonalds truly did care about people we would see them treat their employees differently. There is a strong theory X approach to management in McDonaldized organizations. The principles of McDonaldized organizations lend themselves to this type of approach. I do not think that the problem is with their ultimate goals, which I would argue are efficiency and predictability, I think the problem is with their means to achieving these goals, calculability and control. Because McDonalds treats their employees in a theory X manner they must rely on calculability and control to achieve their goals (Bolman & Deal, 2008).
I think it is important that McDonaldized organizations reframe in order to bring some humanity back to their workplace. One suggestion I would make to help reframe these organizations is to abandon the theory X approach and move to a theory Y approach of management (Bolman & Deal, 2008). By empowering employees, cultivating their skills, and using positive motivational techniques they can reach their goals without relying so heavily on control and calculability. Reductions in the amount of control and calculability would allow for more autonomy within the workplace and increased humanization.
The symbolic frame looks at the importance and significance of symbols, practices, rituals, and customs of a particular organization. McDonaldized organizations have begun exploiting the symbolic frame in an attempt to persuade society that they truly are compassionate organizations. Using McDonalds as an example we can see a multitude of cultural transmitters. The Ronald McDonald House charity, Happy Meal toys, the Happy Meals themselves, Playgrounds, the "I'm loving it" slogan, Ronald McDonald (and other characters), the golden arches, etc. can all be seen as cultural transmitters. These transmitters are designed to portray the underlying meaning and values which McDonald's wants the public to believe it embraces (Bolman & Deal, 2008). The playgrounds and Ronald McDonald House charity, for instance, are meant to portray McDonalds as a carrying organization which values the wellness of your family and the communities they operate in.
I believe that McDonald's exploitation of the symbolic frame goes back to their very weak application of the human resource frame. Because the ideals of the human resource frame clash so greatly with the principle of McDonaldized organizations they must portray an atmosphere of caring and compassion through alternative means. This is why they dedicate so much time to developing cultural transmitters and exploiting the symbolic frame. This poses a very serious ethical dilemma. The practice of organizations portraying values and beliefs that they do not actually hold is deceptive and dishonest. In the end it may do more damage to the organization than it does good (Bolman & Deal, 2008).
Although I am not going to focus on Bolman and Deal's political frame, I feel that it is important to briefly mention here. People have begun realizing that McDonaldized organizations are portraying false images and the organizations have received bad press. In response, they began using political techniques to build coalitions and gain support within society. Also, I feel that McDonaldized organizations view the market place as a jungle and are fighting for their share of the scarce resources or money (Bolman & Deal, 2008).
Advantages and Disadvantages of McDonaldization
Much of the literature on McDonaldization exclusively focuses on the "negative" aspects of the phenomenon and does not make a strong distinction between employees and consumer in McDonaldized systems. Authors tell the terrors of a McDonaldized death, McDonaldized systems ravaging the environment, the mind-numbing tasks involved with McDonaldized jobs, and the frustrations of attending a McDonaldized educational institution.Admittedly, even I have focused primarily on the negative aspects of McDonaldization up to this point, but what are the advantages of McDonaldization and from whose perspective? In my opinion, Ritzer and others do a very lack luster job of clearly identifying the advantages associated with McDonaldization for consumers. I am not disputing that there are disadvantages associated with McDonaldization or even saying that advantages outweigh disadvantages or vice versa. I simply feel that in order to analyze any situation effectively we must consider the pros and cons from all perspectives and through all frames or perspectives.
Two primary advantages of McDonaldization are convience and afforadability. Modern US society is an on-the-go, fast paced environment which values convenience. I am no exception to this phenomenon. When I go to Wal-Mart I just want to get my toothpaste, or whatever item I came for, and go. I am not looking to create personal relationships with the people that serve me my food or ring up my groceries. Between my coworkers, peers at school, bosses, professors, family, friends, and my boyfriend I already feel as though I am downing in personal relationships. The ability to conveniently and quickly complete daily tasks affords me more time to do the things I care about. For instance I can even manage my own bank account or check my email in the middle of the night. This would probably not be possible without some degree of McDonaldization.
Affordability is another major advantage of McDonaldization. McDonaldization has allowed regular, middle class people to afford luxuries that even the richest men could not have dreamed of many years ago. While sitting in the Coffee Bean not long ago I saw a homeless man surfing the web and playing a DVD on his portable computer. McDonaldized systems have made this possible. Many products which were once very expensive are now accessible to almost everyone in developed nations. The wealth of information offered by the internet, as well as many products and services that were likely made possible by McDonaldization, cannot be over looked or downplayed when analyzing the effects of McDonaldization on society.
How can we deal with McDonaldization?
Some people have described McDonaldization as a cage. The image of an iron cage represents society as a whole surrounded by a rationalization system (Ritzer, 2003). Perhaps it is because I am a product of a McDonaldized society, but I certainly would not use the metaphor of a cage to describe McDonaldization. "Although the cage-like image may fit to a certain degree, it is certainly not an iron cage because escape remains an easy option for most people (Ritzer, 2003)." McDonaldization only dominates our lives to the extent which we allow it to dominate our lives. I exploit McDonaldization to obtain the advantages discussed in this paper and in no way does McDonaldization take advantage of me. For this reason, I think describing McDonaldization as a cage is a narrow-minded, deceptive portrayal.
That being said, I feel there are several simple steps that those who do not prefer McDonaldized systems can take to deal with McDonaldization. Consumers, especially, have a great deal of freedom with the way they handle McDonaldization. After all, the ultimate choice is theirs. If they have a high level of distain for McDonaldized organizations they can simply desist from patronizing them. In my personal opinion, the most important step is to avoid the invasion of McDonaldization into one's personal life. My own family has done things such as avoiding McDonaldized meals and outings. I think this has helped us to cultivate strong, healthy relationships in our personal lives.
Employees of McDonaldized systems, on the other hand, have a very limited amount of freedom when it comes to dealing with McDonaldization. Those in managerial position can subtly resist by doing things such as employing Maslow's hierarchy of needs and a theory Y management approach (Bolman & Deal, 2008). Of Course this only works to the extent that their bosses allowing it to go on. I'm afraid that lower level employees are only afforded one option for dealing with McDonaldization (but it is probably the best option), Education. McDonaldized organizations, and their mind-numbing, mundane jobs, are here to stay. For many the last line of defense is education. I myself am going to school for this specific reason. Unfortunately, those employed in McDonaldized jobs are armed with little more than their creativity and critical thinking skills to survive in the meantime.
McDonaldization is the processes through which the principles of the fast food industry, efficiency, predictability, calculability, and control, have come to dominate an increasing number of organizations in modern society (Ritzer, 2008). McDonaldization can lead to several disadvantages, such as dehumanized jobs and services, and several advantages, such as convenience and affordability. These advantages and disadvantages are proliferated primarily through a stringent application of Bolman and Deal's (2008) structural frame and use of the systemizer perspective (Leavitt, 2007).
Although McDonaldized organizations use the symbolic frame to create the perception that they care about their employees, communities, and clientele, it is largely superficial. For example, McDonalds uses symbols such as the Ronald McDonald House charity, playgrounds, and friendly characters (such as Ronald McDonald) to give the illusion that they truly care about people. If they truly did care about people we would see a stronger implementation of the human resource frame within their organization. One possible approach to this problem would be for them to use a theory Y approach to achieve their goals of efficiency and predictability and reduce their dependence on calculability and control (Bolman & Deal, 2008).
Consumers who do not like McDonaldization can simply avoid patronizing McDonaldized organizations as much as possible. Employees of McDonaldized organizations, on the other hand, will likely have to rely on education to help them obtain better, less McDonalized jobs. Most likely McDonaldized organization will be around for many years to come. McDonaldization has invaded nearly every aspect of society. Even George Ritzer's book, The McDonaldization of Society 5, which denounces the evils of McDonaldization is itself McDonaldized. It is highly structured, repetitive, and predictable at times. He even includes a instructor's CD ROM with suggested essay questions for educators, thus aiding in McDonaldizing the educational process. People should stop fighting McDonaldization and learn to exploit it. In the end, McDonaldization can only dominate our lives to the extent that we allow it to. As a busy college student, I feel that Mcdonaldization is a great thing, if you use it cautiously. College students often run short on time especially because they have so many things going on. Online classes, Internet databases, and collaborative websites such as Google Docs, all of which were made possible at least partially due to McDonaldization, make the college experience more accessible and manageable. Instead of letting McDonaldization take advantage of us we must use McDonaldization to our own advantage.