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Undercover Boss gets a thumbs up

One of the best shows on television has to be the new CBS reality show, Undercover Boss. If you missed it Sunday night, I recommend you catch it next week.  Apparently, 38.6 million people watched the debut of the show in which executives work incognito within their own companies.

Undercover Sunday's episode revealed the huge disconnect between corporate policy and how it affects the work/life of employees. It showed how far removed the top executive can become from the bottom rung employees who have interaction with the customers. Larry O'Donnell, the president and COO of Waste Management, posed as an entry level worker and took on jobs such as sorting recycling, picking up litter and cleaning toilets. He learned from a recycling worker that she is docked two minutes for every minute she is late from her half-hour lunch. He learned from a female garbage truck driver that she has to pee in a coffee can to keep on schedule. He learned from a plant worker that she is doing the job of several workers and getting paid an hourly wage. At the end of the episode, O'Donnell made changes, handing out promotions and raises and allowing breaks into the schedules for the female drivers.

I heard O'Donnell in an interview yesterday withElvis Duran (radio host) and O'Donnell said he had no idea the effects of his corporate policies to drive productivity and he never would have known because although he visits sites, he arrives as president and doesn't get the candid feedback from employees. He was amused at the way "corporate" was used to describe the jerks at the top, knowing he was the guy the workers were talking about.

A critic for Time Magazine had some gripes with the show. He writes: "Every problem O'Donnell witnessed comes out of shareholder demands for productivity, to wring more work out of every penny of wages. Does anyone believe there aren't plenty of other workers in the same straits in a company the size of Waste Management?  You stop cutting costs, you disappoint the market, and you get canned. If Larry O'Donnell has too much of an Ebenezer Scrooge change of heart, Waste management can find another Larry O'Donnell.

Good point. But I like a show that details the reality of how hard some people work to earn a buck. I like a show that shines a light on how far removed those in the executive suite can become from the reality of how hard it can be to balance work and life when you are facing health issues or financial hardship.

Even though Undercover Boss is a prime-time entertainment show, and maybe even cheesy big network PR for executives, I'm a supporter. If Undercover Boss makes even one CEO consider spending time with front-line workers, if it leads to one change that's favorable for employees, I think it's done a great community service. I'm willing to give this show another hour of my time next week.

If you saw the show, did you think it was manipulative, entertaining or realistic?


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