Today I picked up a few donuts from Dunkin’ Donuts through the drive-thru, and they messed up my order.

Even after correcting it at the window, there was still a mistake but I had already driven off and it wasn’t worth turning around to go back, yet it reminded me of that classic argument against raising the minimum wage that goes something like – “If you can’t even get my fast food order right, why in the world should you get paid $15/hour?!”

I spent some time pondering this during my drive, and here’s what I came up with…

First and foremost is simply that everyone makes mistakes at their job, with many being a lot more serious than overlooking the occasional chocolate-frosted donut. I work with databases and statistics for my day job and there are plenty of instances where a number gets transposed or a query is missing a clause that produces inaccurate results, yet the immediate reaction isn’t typically that I don’t deserve to be paid a living wage for my work because I’m just so stupid.

Because that’s what the minimum wage is intended to be – a livable standard for what employers are required to pay their workers for an honest day’s work. And while you can argue that frying donuts and the like are minimally valued skills, tell that to the corporations that make billions of dollars each year off of those workers’ efforts.

Along those same lines, though, I got to thinking about what causes people to make mistakes at work and I would bet my missing chocolate donut that understaffing plays a significant factor because anytime that I go to a fast food restaurant, the employees seem to be running around like crazy between all of the various tasks that they need to cover. In fact, never having worked fast food myself, it consistently shocks me to see that the same person taking orders is the same person filling drinks, taking money, and rounding up your order from the various stations, too.

Think about it – most fast food restaurants have a separate window first to pay at, but instead more often than not there’s just a sign posted telling you to move to the next window.

Clearly it was the original intention to have two separate roles, yet at some point in fast food land they decided to consolidate the work onto a single person … but I’ll bet they didn’t also consolidate the pay between those two jobs in turn!

It’s really the same thing we see happening in almost every industry – workers being expected to do more work with less time and resources – and yet service industry workers seem to be given a harder time over slipping up when there’s literally too many things on their plate to get every order exactly right.

So ultimately I think that the two issues here are completely separate – if an employee doesn’t consistently perform, it could be that the person just isn’t paying attention OR it could be that the work is being mismanaged and the workers aren’t being setup to succeed in the first place. In a way, is it really fair to hold the worker responsible for a wrong order when they were also being barked at to get the restroom cleaned and take care of the people at the counter and don’t forget to take their 15-minute break while they’re at it because the boss ain’t paying no overtime?!

The minimum wage angle, on the other hand, to me is really simple – if your employees can’t make ends meet on what you’re paying them, you’re not paying them enough, and if you can’t afford to pay them any more, then your business model is flawed and you shouldn’t be in business.

Separate issues, and as an aside I also tend to think that if we were a bit nicer to fast food workers in general, they might be more likely to get our orders right than shouting for their termination because our iced coffee got made with skim milk instead of 2% like we’d shouted into the unintelligible speaker box 90 seconds ago. 😛

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