Avoiding the McJobs: unemployed job seekers and attitudes to service work

Colin Lindsay, Ronald W McQuaid

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Service employment plays an increasingly important role in the UK economy. However, it has been suggested that some forms of service work are unattractive for many unemployed job seekers, and particularly those formerly employed in ‘traditional’ sectors. The argument has been made that these job seekers and others may be reluctant to pursue the type of positions that have become known as ‘McJobs’ – de-skilled, entry-level service jobs which often offer poor pay and conditions. This article examines whether there is such a reluctance amongst job seekers to pursue service work, and whether it differs between job seeker groups. It also compares differences in job seekers’ attitudes towards entry-level work in three areas of the service sector – retail, hospitality and teleservicing or ‘call centre work’. The analysis is based upon a survey of 300 registered unemployed people in Scotland. A substantial minority of respondents ruled out entry-level service work in retail and hospitality under any circumstances. Older men, those seeking relatively high weekly wages and those without experience of service work (and who perceived themselves to lack the necessary skills) were particularly reluctant to consider these jobs. Differences between job seekers were much less apparent in relation to attitudes to call centre work, which was more unpopular than other service occupations across almost all groups. The article concludes that policy action may be required to encourage job seekers to consider a broader range of vacancies and to provide financial and personal support for those making the transition into work in the service economy. However, on the demand side, service employers must seek to ‘abolish the McJob’, by ensuring that even entry-level positions offer realistic salaries, decent work conditions and opportunities for personal development.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-319
JournalWork, Employment and Society
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • service work
  • employability
  • job search
  • unemployment
  • job quality

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