Undercover Boss is a weekly reality show on CBS with a premise of taking a CEO, putting him or her into the role of an average worker within the company and watching the CEO make the usually futile attempt at meeting the daily challenges faced by the workers. The focus of this show is raising the CEO's awareness of how difficult the manual labor is for their employees. Usually the CEOs are people who have never done the type of work that their employees do, so they fail miserably at doing it. At the end of the show the CEO meets with the employees individually and offers custom-made prizes to the people with whom he or she has worked as a reward for their good work.
I have watched this show a few times, and at the end I've always asked myself the same question... "what about the other employees?"
Sure it's very nice of the CEO to give an employee $5,000 to finish their education, or an all expense paid vacation for the family, but even in this gesture the focus is on the CEO. It's as if the producers are saying "What a nice person this CEO is." "How nice of them to reward this employee for his or her hard work". It's as if these few singled out employees are anomallies who deserve a little extra.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
The fact is that the few employees who are recognized on this show are merely the tip of the iceberg. For each employee that gets recognized in this manner, there are hundreds who work just as hard, are just as enthusiastic, etc... and they all work for minumum wage. What about them? What rewards do they get for their loyalty, dedication and hard work?
Corporations could not survive without good, hard-working people. Corporatists and others on the right want to paint a very inaccurate picture of what a minimum wage worker is like. We are told that they are mostly teenagers, or they are people who don't work that hard, or any number of other degradations that make the workers appear to be unworthy of even the current minimum wage. The truth is that the average age of a minumum wage worker is 35, and if there's one positive thing that we can learn from Undercover Boss, it's that these people are good hard-working people who are trying to keep their families together under very difficult circumstances. They are struggling, not because they are lazy or stupid or lack creativity. They are struggling because they are working a full-time job that doesn't pay them enough money to even meet their monthly rent and food bills, let alone anything that might help them get a little ahead.
The next time that you watch a program like this, forget the CEO. Watch the workers. Learn their stories. Realize that they represent most of the workers. And keep them in mind the next time someone brings up the topic of the minumum wage, because if there's one thing we've learned from Undercover Boss it's that there are a lot of good dedicated hard-working and loyal employees out there.
Personally, I'll find these shows more rewarding when, at the end, the CEO says, "Wow. The way our employees are stuggling is not good for our business. I'm going to give each of our minimum wage employees a raise so that they can stay focussed on our business and not be distracted by a second job."
I have a feeling I'll be waiting a while.