McDonald’s shows how HR can raise its game

Whether you ever personally set foot in a McDonald’s restaurant or consume its much-maligned food, it’s hard not to have a grudging admiration for the fast-food chain’s efforts at redefining its employer brand.

If your company had ‘inspired’ a phrase as derogatory as ‘McJob’ – defined by the online encyclopaedia Wikipedia as ‘slang for a low-paying, low-prestige job that requires few skills and offers very little chance of intracompany advancement’ – chances are you’d want to sweep that definition under the carpet and pretend it didn’t exist.

Not so McDonald’s. Even when chief executive Steve Easterbrook and chief people officer David Fairhurst spoke at our HR Directors Club briefing last autumn, he was completely transparent about its mission to tackle the huge gap that they say exists between the external perception and internal reality of what it’s like to work at McDonald’s. Cue the high-profile ‘not bad for a ‘McJob’ recruitment ads, and its new campaign to change the dictionary definition of ‘McJob’. (, 24 May).

You could pass this off as the merciless pursuit of PR. It’s undeniable that McDonald’s has a huge publicity machine behind it, and Fairhurst is certainly not shy about having his face on the business pages.

But the accolades the company has been stacking up lately suggest it’s more than mere spin – for example, McDonald’s won the 2007 Best Place to Work in Hospitality award for its £14m investment in staff development, which includes basic skills training for employees who left school with no qualifications.

This battle to redefine its employer brand shows just how joined-up HR and marketing are at McDonald’s. But the most noteworthy thing about all the McJob coverage is that the main spokesman is Fairhurst – because it’s so rare to see HR directors fronting campaigns of this magnitude.

It is time for more HR directors to emerge from the back-room shadows and become the public face of their organisation’s employer brand.

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