Jewish World Review April 19, 2010 / 5 Iyar 5770
The Bossman Cometh
By Malcolm Fleschner
http://www.JewishWorldReview.com | When I first saw the promos for "Undercover Boss," the new CBS show about CEOs who take on low-level jobs in their own companies, I was stunned. "What," I thought, "it's not enough that CEOs today lay off workers by the thousands and ship countless other jobs overseas, but now, in the off chance that any jobs are mistakenly left over, well, the CEOs just have to take those for themselves too? Is there no end to their greed?"
Upon further inspection, it turns out that I didn't entirely understand the show's premise. In fact, the CEOs don't take anyone else's job - for one week he merely exchanges his Blackberry and corner office for a "trainee" nametag and a variety of low paying assignments, passing himself off as the subject of a documentary about entry-level work.
In addition to their pathetic showing at the kind of basic tasks that millions of Americans perform every day, the CEOs also appear clueless about what goes on in their own companies. My favorite was the CEO of Hooters restaurants who was upset to discover that many Americans are - get this - offended by Hooters. Shocking! Better keep the defibrillators handy in case someone tells this guy what religion the Pope practices.
At the end of the show, after revealing his true identity, the Hooters CEO even chewed out a restaurant manager for objectifying and disrespecting his waitresses. I kept waiting for the manager to affix the CEO with a quizzical look and say, "Um, you know that is our whole business model, right?" By contrast, while the Waste Management CEO was, admittedly, incredibly slow at vacuuming out port-a-potties, at least when he was handed the Shop-Vac, he didn't recoil in horror and say, "My God, these people are wallowing in human filth!"
But the best part of the show occurs at the beginning, when the CEO calls his executive team together for the surprise announcement of his upcoming "undercover" assignment. If the camera angle is right, you can usually spot the priceless "Oh, Sh*t!" moments on the executives' faces as they realize that the boss is about to personally investigate their operations. Watch really closely and you can even catch them eyeing the exits and mentally calculating how long it would take to transfer all their holdings into a Cayman Islands account and flee the country.
Because that's always the CEO's stated purpose in going undercover - to ferret out where the company's operational inefficiencies and bottlenecks are. But then he finds out, lo and behold, that all those employees doing low wage jobs actually work incredibly hard, are terribly efficient and their biggest work-related problem is all the nonsensical rules management forces them to follow. In fact, as it turns out, the majority of factory production line slowdowns today are caused by "undercover" CEOs screwups.
So rather than discovering new ways to help the company succeed, the CEOs instead come away from the experience learning Life Lessons. Like that family is more important than work; that even people in "menial" jobs take great pride in the work they do; and that management is the enemy and must be overthrown in a glorious revolution of the proletariat - you know, the basics.
Not surprisingly, CBS has renewed the show for another season. My only question is how, with the show's popularity, producers plan to keep fooling workers into believing that the middle aged, balding white guy with the manicured fingernails is just a regular Joe who happens to have a camera crew trailing his every move.
Maybe instead they'll pull a switcheroo and install a front-line employee in the CEO's comfy chair for a week. I, for one, would love to see what happens when, say, a Hooters waitress is put in charge of the company. The first order of business: getting all those executives into baby tees and orange hot pants!
JWR contributor Malcolm Fleschner is a humor columnist for The DC Examiner. Let him know what you think by clicking here.
© 2006, Malcolm Fleschner