Has anybody seen that show Undercover Boss? The show operates under the premise that a senior executive, curious of what company life is like for the employees at the other end of the spectrum, goes to the frontline to rub elbows with the commoners. I saw the premier episode featuring Larry O’Donnell, the CEO from Waste Management, Inc. He showed up at one of the landfill waste facilities and tried to hang with people who work with garbage every work day.
Mr. O’Donnell was given the assignment of catching all the trash that was flying away. The wind would catch some paper flying off of a truck during a dump and it would be Mr. O’Donnell’s job to nab that wayward trash. He gave it a good try. But the foreman was relentless. A camera would be in the foreman’s face as he shouted over to the incognito boss man running to collect trash, “You’re too slow, Larry! Faster!” The old man from behind the desk at the top of the company couldn’t run fast enough to keep the area around the landfill clean. At the end of the shift, the foreman assigned to work with him told him flat out that he couldn’t cut it. The undercover boss simply didn’t have what it took to do the job.
At the end of the show, Mr. O’Donnell puts back on the tailored suit and goes back to the facility to let everybody in on the candid camera bit. Mr. O’Donnell has no hard feelings for anyone and has nothing but words of praise for his former coworkers, even the foreman that had his ass running all over the side of the landfill trying to collect trash. The boss man is so impressed that he starts doing a Wizard of Oz impersonation, where he gives all the hardworking employees that he met a financial reward or some kind of choice promotion. For the employees who are struggling to do their jobs day by day and eek out a living on their meager pay, it’s a blessing. And boss man walks away with a better understanding of the company and the people he’s got at the bottom rung of things. It’s a win-win for everybody involved.
After a little while, I started thinking about what I saw, or what I thought I had seen. I mean, if I was the employee at the bottom and some new guy shows up with manicured hands and a gang of camera men following his every move, I’m pretty sure I’m going to think something was up. So when the foreman was telling “Larry” that he was too slow, would he really want to do that with a camera in his face? And didn’t the foreman get just a little suspicious when the camera crew chased Mr. O’Donnell around that landfill recording his every move? I started to wonder what story could somebody have given to keep everybody from getting a bit dubious about what was going on.
Hey everybody listen up. We got a new guy starting today. He’s going to have a few camera people following him around to record our indoctrination process. He doesn’t know anything about what we do. But don’t let any of that effect the way you talk to him. If he can’t do the job, go ahead and tell him that he just can’t hack it because that’s how we do things with new people here at Waste Management. And whatever you do don’t think he’s anybody important.
But what really got my goat was the way the boss man wants to take care of the employees that he worked with. What about all the other employees who were doing similar jobs at Waste Management facilities in other areas. We heard about the sad struggles of the employees who made it on camera and how at the end of the show the boss man went out of his way to reward those hard workers.
What about all those other hard workers in the company he didn’t meet that had similar struggles of their own? Is the company going to do anything to change policy so that each and every employee benefits from what Larry uncovered in his publicized undercover investigation? Did Larry go back and raise everybody’s pay? Did everybody get a promotion? I seriously doubt it. In typical American capitalism fashion, only a lucky few who got the opportunity to explain their own situation and get some kind of compensation for it.
We don’t develop policies that are designed to help everyone. Our policies are designed to keep the majority of people struggling while we promote a select few who happen to get the attention of the boss or whatever or whoever passes as a gatekeeper. And then, the fortunate ones are held up as an example of what could happen for the rest of us if we keep our noses clean and work hard.
It wouldn’t matter if everyone in the company kept their noses as clean as possible and worked their little hearts out, more often than not there will be a limited number of opportunities in relation to the number of people trying to obtain them. Boss man wants to give away a promotion or some financial relief? Will he do anything to find out who in the company is the neediest or the most deserving? Nah. He’ll just take the most expedient route and give it to the people he already knows, like the guy that ran his ass all around that landfill with a camera in his face shouting, “Faster, Larry, Faster!”