First Impressions

Undercover Boss

Aired on: CBS

Reviewed by Melissa Minners


            When I first heard about this show, I thought - oh no, not another reality show!  But then I saw more and more promos for it and thought - hmm, what an interesting idea!  Undercover Boss is a new reality show that airs Sundays at 9PM EST based on a 2009 British television series of the same name.  In each episode, a CEO from a major corporation goes undercover within the company, visiting various locations and performing a variety of jobs within the company to see what works, what doesn’t and what can be done to improve productivity and morale.  Camera crews are explained as members of a documentary about first-time employees.  Afterwards, the CEO will call in those that he worked with and reveal himself and his findings to them.

            In the first episode, President and Chief Operating Officer of Waste Management, Inc., Larry O’Donnell went undercover, working alongside his employees at various locations as they cleaned port-o-potties, sorted waste at a recycling plant, rode the truck collecting waste from a community and worked multiple jobs at a landfill.  While doing so, he encountered some of the good, bad and ugly about the corporation and his workers.  But he didn’t just absorb this stuff and walk away.  Instead, he decided to take what he learned and use it to improve his company.  He offered recognition to the workers he realized were performing some of the hardest…and sometimes downright disgusting…jobs within his corporation.  He instituted changes in some of the rules and regulations regarding garbage pick-up routes.  He even promoted a woman who was working at one of his landfill locations, performing multiple roles for little pay and struggling to make ends meet.

            The next episode I watched featured Joseph DePinto, President and CEO of 7-Eleven.  DePinto worked undercover on an overnight shift in one location, worked at a location highly popular for its coffee and worked with a 7-Eleven delivery truck driver.  He, too, saw areas in which changes could be instituted and hard work and dedication should be praised. 

            The following episode featured Dave Rife, owner and Executive Board Member of White Castle.  This episode was close to my heart as I was once a White Castle employee and felt that this was one fast food company that was rather decent to its workers in some aspects, but lacking in others.  Dave Rife found this out for himself as he worked the grill, the drive-thru, the register and performed line-work at one of the factories.  While undercover, he discovered that, not only was this all hard work, some of his locations needed some tweaks here and there regarding how they are managed.  Some employees received extra recognition thanks to what Rife recognized as extra drive, integrity and determination.  Rife also instituted a wellness program and a leadership program based upon his experiences at his various store locations.

            Thus far, I have found this show to be not only entertaining, but incredibly inspiring.  Finally, the bosses are seeing what effect rules and regulations put into place by executive boards have on co-workers at every possible level of their corporation.  Now, of course, we know that most people are going to behave a bit differently while on camera - smiling more, cursing less, acting more enthusiastic in their work.  However, I have seen some refreshing honesty amongst many of the workers featured in this series from the Waste Management trash pick-up driver using a pee jar because there were not enough stops on her route where she could actually use a bathroom to the White Castle manager who worried every day that not following corporate rules and procedures to the letter could get her fired. 

            Even more exciting is that, thus far, most of these bosses actually learn from their experiences and do their best to try and improve the working conditions of their employees based on their observations.  At a time when working folks believe that the CEOs of large corporations are uncaring, invisible individuals who lay down the law but have little idea what really goes on in the front lines, Undercover Boss is a refreshing change from the norm.  One could only wish that their bosses would join the Undercover Boss bandwagon and learn about how their corporation functions on the front lines after management hands out their rules and regulations, institutes cuts and the like.

            Thus far, I’ve found that Undercover Boss is a different sort of reality show that is both inspiring and revolutionary in its approach.  I can only see positive things coming from this endeavor.  I only hope that more companies take part in this phenomenon all over the United States.

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