The premise of the show is that every week the president and/or CEO of a major U.S. corporation goes undercover at entry level positions within his company and is made to perform the same tasks as these people. As a result we get to watch his supposedly amusing antics as he attempts to perform the same mundane tasks that his unsuspecting employees do daily, with far more competence. We also get to watch the executive as he talks to his lowly employees and learns about their (often difficult) lives. I’ve only seen two episodes and so far we’ve had no less than the recovering alcoholic, the single mother of an autistic child, and the guy who transports 16 inner city kids to and from the basketball games that he coaches in his spare time.
Ok, here’s the thing: I’m not insensitive to the plights of the Roto Rooter workers or the 1-800-FLOWERS staff. But I can see a ratings grab/marketing promo when it’s slapping me in the face. And while I’m sure these CEOs are genuinely touched by the lessons they learn from their staff, I think its fairly obvious that the employees are previously screened to find the ones with the best ‘stories’ for tv. Because really, would it be quite as interesting if 1-800 FLOWERS President Chris McCann went undercover to one of his neighborhood shops and the floral designer simply made up the pre-designed arrangements, with no creativity, no aspirations to someday design her own arrangements, and checked her watch repeatedly for 5:00pm so she could go home and write the next 25 pages of the crime novel she has been working on for the past 19 months?
Sure, it’s great for those few employees who come out of the deal with a month‘s mortgage paid, a new van capable of transporting 16 kids at a time, or a floral arrangement named after them, but really, where is the long term? I’m not that gullible, and my warm and fuzzies dried up long ago working for large corporations. Let’s face it, Mr. President really doesn’t give a rat’s patootey about the front line entry level worker that is face to face with their customers daily. If they did, they wouldn’t cut hours to compensate for the increase of minimum wage. And when the Senior VP of Retail Stores comes to our store for his quarterly visit, he would do more than sit in my store manager’s office and make phone calls.
I’d like to see Undercover Boss come to my work. I’d like to see the President and CEO of the retail store chain I work for spend a day working in ladies wear. Explain to bitchy women why our sale signs aren’t more specific than ‘knit tops’, and why a sweater (that arguably is knit, even if its by a machine and not my aunt Martha) isn’t actually considered a ‘knit top’ and is not on sale. Or explain why there are only two cashiers open in the entire store, and yes, you do have to walk ‘all the way to the other side of the store’ in order to pay for your non-knit sweater that isn‘t on sale. Maybe even do a couple of bra fittings for overweight women who don’t wear deodorant. But Mr. CEO, let’s not make it about a network tv ratings grab, or a marketing ploy for the company to show how progressive and sensitive you are. Let’s skip the tv cameras, let’s skip the crocodile tears and bring it for real.