UPDATE: This show continues to deliver — a fascinating look at the lives of everyday workers and what happens when some heart is brought to the boss-employee relationship. Watch it and weep. View complete episodes here.
CBS’s Undercover Boss (Sundays at 9p/8p) goes to great lengths to get corporate CEOs to empathize with their employees by disguising CEOs as front-line laborers showing up at different branch locations to work. It’s actually quite a good idea. The CEO is moved often to tears at what he sees in the field — whether it’s how hard life is at the bottom, or meeting someone who reminds them of family — and in the aftermath he gets to do something about it, using his power for good.
It’s a concept developed for television a decade ago with Nickelodeon’s “A Walk In Your Shoes” in which kids traded places for the day and learned what it was like to experience someone else’s life — their family, their culture, their circumstances. In CBS’s Undercover Boss, that concept is married with big corporations, where the Boss is fortunate enough to wield decision-making power over a multi-million dollar enterprise and gets to use that power to make a difference in the lives he just shared.
Each show concludes with the Undercover Boss revealing his identity to the workers by summoning them to the corporate office where he bestows a gift that speaks to each individual’s particular hardship. The gifts are relatively modest given the size of the corporation — for example, fast-tracking a woman with potential to a management position or giving a scholarship for a man’s son to attend college so the man doesn’t have to work two jobs — but the gesture of generosity and recognition from the Boss to the employee is overwhelming.
This is where TV can teach us new ways of being. Why can’t all Bosses go “undercover”? The results produced were better for the business, better for the boss, and better for the employees. Imagine a world where our boss is our fellow human being, who shares our experience, shows us personally that he understands, and does what he can so easily afford to do to help elevate us out of our struggles? After that catches on, I have another idea for a show — “Undercover Politician”. Anyone interested?