Several of my friends have been talking about Undercover Boss, the CBS show where a CEO goes undercover as a regular worker in his or her company to learn more about the company. I finally managed to catch an episode, and I have to say, it's pretty entertaining television, especially if you're at all interested in the relationship between workers and management.
Last night's episode featured Rick Arquilla, President and COO of Roto-Rooter, going out and tackling the plumbing and sewer work alongside his employees. In every instance, he proved to be not so great at the work. His employees remain good-natured, but they show their frustration with his inability to do even the simplest of tasks. Those of us who serve as cogs in the wheel can take heart that it really is true that your boss couldn't do your job. Unlike many bosses, Arquilla recognizes how hard the work is and how hard his employees work. He is impressed with them at every turn and touched by their life stories.
Several times during the episode, Arquilla breaks down in tears. For example, he feels a connection between an employee's battle with alcoholism and his father's own struggle, which caused problems in his family. He also feels for the workers at a manufacturing operation, who are uncertain if their plant will stay open or if, as most companies do, the manufacturing operation will be moved to China. It is touching to see a CEO actually getting emotional over the plight of his employees. He seems to have a real understanding of how difficult it is to be unsure about whether a job will be there or not.
In the clip below, Aquilla reveals himself to his employees and shows some of what he does to reward their hard work. It shows some of what Aquilla has learned from his experience.
Yes, the show is entertaining and worth watching for that reason alone, but I also hope that the CEOs are learning something valuable from the experience, potentially changing policies for their workers to make their lives better. It seems that Aquilla learned a great deal and that he will lead his company differently as a result. I look forward to seeing other episodes and hope that other CEOs fare as well.