‘It would really suck to lose everyone’ Meduza spoke to five McDonald’s employees to find out what they think about the fast-food giant leaving Russia for good
McDonalds has announced that it is leaving the Russian market after 32 years of doing business there. Since mid-March, operations have been suspended at McDonalds’ 850 restaurants across Russia. On May 16, the company confirmed that it will sell its Russian business. Existing locations will be rebranded, and the iconic Golden Arches will vanish. According to the state news agency TASS, the new restaurants could open as soon as mid-June. Before the invasion, McDonalds employed 62,000 people at its franchises. The company continued to pay these staff even after suspending business in Russia. Meduza spoke to a handful of McDonalds workers to learn their thoughts about the chain’s departure from Russia, and to find out what they plan to do next.
Update: These interviews were originally published in Russian on May 17, 2022. Two days later, the McDonald’s Corporation announced that it is selling its Russian business to Alexander Govor, who has served as a McDonald’s licensee since 2015 and already operates 25 restaurants in Siberia. “The sale and purchase agreement provides for employees to be retained for at least two years, on equivalent terms. The buyer has also agreed to fund the salaries of corporate employees who work in 45 regions of the country until closing, as well as fund existing liabilities to suppliers, landlords and utilities,” McDonald’s explained in a press release.
Crew member, St. Petersburg
I started working at McDonalds in November 2020. I’m not 18 yet, and I had to work part-time while studying in college, so I only worked 3–4-hour shifts, a few times a week. Six months later, I withdrew from college for family reasons and decided to switch to a full-time schedule. I was working seven hours a day, five days a week, and earned about 25,000 rubles [$420] per month.
I started enjoying work more and more — especially the team there and the new friends I made. We really were a big family. With time, I gained experience, and I was named employee of the month. I wanted to continue my career at McDonalds. I was already counting down the days until July 22, when I turn 18, when I could work night shifts. Working more and making more money. Ideally, I’d go for a promotion — most of the management roles there require you to be 18.
It was a holiday on March 8, and I wasn’t expecting bad news. All of a sudden, I saw the news that McDonalds would temporarily close all of its restaurants in Russia. In that moment, I could almost feel my hopes crumble.
Almost — but not entirely — because, at first, I hoped that by May or June the restaurants would reopen. I was hoping the company could deal with its “operational, technical, and logistical challenges” within a month and a half, like the media had predicted. Management was communicative with us, but they couldn’t answer any questions about reopening. They didn’t know anything, either.
During the closure, only managers worked; they watched over the premises and kept the restaurants clean. Regular staff didn’t need to show up. I didn’t start looking for new jobs; I relaxed, hung out, and felt confident that everything would be fine. The pay wasn’t a problem: they paid us in full (including incentive pay), as if nothing had happened. Every day, I would read the news in hopes of seeing that McDonalds was reopening. But instead, I found out that McDonalds was fully exiting the Russian market.
What’s next? I have no idea. I hope some things at least stay the same as before, after the company is sold to the new owner. I want the managers and all my coworkers to remain. I really want to keep working with that team. Apparently, TASS cited an anonymous source who says the menus will stay unchanged. If that’s the case, I’ll stick with the job.
(Name changed.) Crew member, Krasnodar Krai
The news didn’t surprise me. As soon as the war began and foreign companies started leaving the Russian market, it was only a matter of time until McDonalds closed down. I was waiting for the company to announce it was ending operations.
It’s still disappointing that it turned out this way. McDonalds was a full-time job for me, and I was planning to apply for a promotion. But I was forced to change my plans. Now I’m waiting for the new restaurant chain to open after it is rebranded. I’m worried that I’ll have to start from the bottom to be promoted.
When the restaurant closed down, I decided to wait for it to reopen. At the time, nobody from our team resigned. Many people liked the flexibility that McDonalds offered — a lot of our staff are students who like choosing their own schedule to combine work and school. They paid our wages on time, everyone strictly followed the rules, there were no delays, and we had no reason to expect any problems. Everyone was waiting for the reopening and talking about it since everything stopped. But we were getting no information at all about the future of the restaurant.
Now someone will buy it, and a rebranding is expected, but layoffs seem unlikely. Those who leave will do so by choice. Who knows what we’ll become, what the working conditions will be like, and so on. Honestly, I have my doubts that a buyer will turn up. I think it would cost an insane amount of money that few people have right now.
It will be very interesting to see what happens with the chain if they actually find a buyer. Right now, the restaurant’s equipment and setup are optimized for fast food, so it would be costly and difficult to turn it into a café or a sit-down place. So, I expect that it will remain a casual place under a different name.
Right now, I don’t want to resign. I’m sad about leaving behind all the time I spent working here. At the very least, I’ll see what happens with the schedule, the management, and the pay. I have no backup plan. I believe everything will work out.
McDonalds staff instructor, Krasnoyarsk Krai
All things considered, I think of myself as a patriot. I can’t say I am actively interested in politics, but I’m more on Russia’s side in the current situation.
In some ways, it’s good that McDonalds is shutting down — a competitor like that is leaving the market. But now I understand that we will not be able to replace it quickly. I hope our domestic businesses will be better off. You have to support your own goods, not foreign ones.
On the other hand, it’s a shame that McDonalds is leaving. Western companies obey the law more. Perhaps that is just how they do things, but their system is strict and clear. Maybe this is just at McDonalds and not at other companies, but the bonus structure is straightforward, the penalties make sense, and the schedule can work around your plans. No delays, no violations. The managers are decent to you. Sick days and vacation time are no problem. All in all, there’s compliance with all the labor laws.
I’m actually wary about the Russian owners. I’m not sure about how honest the new managers will be. Most of our pay was based on incentives, and now I wonder if they will keep this system or switch us to a fixed salary. I find it simpler when you know what you have to do to earn more money. It creates a connection between your work and your outcome. I’m not used to living on a salary anymore. I worry that they might keep the salaries but start arbitrarily cutting them or withholding them if the manager dislikes you, all while the owners turn a blind eye.
More than anything, what we fear most are pay cuts. Especially the staff who have kids. Crew members are also concerned about the schedule — that they might institute rigid working hours or move away from an hourly wage. Or maybe they’ll keep everything the same on paper, but make folks come out more often and work more hours.
I’m waiting until McDonalds disappears and then reopens. I want to see what’s changed and how the working conditions will change. Just in case, I’ve been looking for other options, too. A few times a week, I skim through job postings, so I’m not forced at this job for lack of an alternative.
(Name changed.) Crew member, Sverdlovsk region
The company’s exit didn’t bother me. I understand the purpose of the sanctions. In my opinion, Russia must face punishment for the war.
But it’s not like I’m in favor of all sanctions. There are some really stupid ones, like PayPal not registering accounts from Russia, all while Russian gas continues to flow to Europe. But a large corporation like McDonalds creates major money for the government with its investments and taxes, so I understand its departure.
I’ve worked at McDonalds for about six months while studying at the same time. Honestly, even before the restaurant shut down, I was looking for a more convenient source of income. The job is stressful, not because of the clients, but because of how fast you have to work to hit their standards. It’s like a dystopia where mega-corporations dehumanize their employees. Sometimes, you had to just turn off your mind and become a robot to run around and do a hundred things at once.
I found it challenging to work in that environment. I sometimes cut corners and got my incentive pay cut. Most often, it would happen because I zoned out and worked slowly. That irritated both the instructors and the managers, of course. I think my work must have affected their pay, too. I didn’t take too many hours, either, because I wouldn’t have had time for school if I worked more. Even before the penalties, the pay isn’t high, but it’s brutal once those are slapped on. I’d be exhausted, and I felt like I deserved better compensation for my work. But maybe I’m wrong.
During the suspension [of operations], I started looking for other options; I was worried McDonalds might not open at all in the near future. And I was right.
I was sure that finding part-time work as a student would be easy, but it turns out that looking for a job during a crisis isn’t much fun. Many companies are shutting down, while others can’t afford to hire new employees (especially part-time). Part-time workers are always the first to be laid off. Why would firms hire new people, especially students who will graduate and quit? Still, I think I’ll find some options eventually. Students always make do.
Honestly, I’m not sure that I’m the best example here. My parents can help me financially. At the moment, they are supporting me. I don’t want to mooch, but I know that I won’t go hungry or homeless, thanks to them.
The people who rely on these jobs for their main income are a lot more worried now than I am.
McDonalds staff instructor, Ivanovo
I’ve been working at McDonalds for just under a year. In that time, I’ve been promoted from a crew member to an instructor who trains new hires.
I ended up at McDonalds by accident: I was looking for work in the summer and knew that they were always hiring and paid decently. Plus, it was literally a two-minute walk from my home. I filled out an application online, and I was invited to an interview, a few days later.
We heard about the suspension from the Internet, during our break. The managers didn’t comment at first, but we understood that the news was probably true.
Everyone was in shock, and nobody wanted to believe it. In the final days before we closed down, there was always a rush of customers, and — honestly — I had little time to think. And then I just had to accept it.
After the restaurant closed, a lot of free time opened up, and many of us started studying something. Several people quit, but not more than a few. I didn’t want to leave. In my time at the company, I’ve found an awesome team and met some really cool people. It would really suck to lose everyone, so I hope that changes will be minimal under the new owners, and we will go back to working like before.
Translation by Nikita Buchko