Once in a while I watch the television programme Undercover Boss. Currently viewing in the UK is Undercover Boss Canada. In many ways the programme is flawed as it simply highlights a lot of what organisations should already be aware of about the way in which their organisations work or not; and the people that work for them. I’m also conscious that it singles out a few of the people that the undercover boss meets whilst undercover and lavishes them with professional and personal rewards. Whilst I’m always pleased for the people receiving these rewards I do increasingly find myself thinking about the rest of the workforce, which may work equally as hard, face equally as challenging personal circumstances and have similar hopes and dreams. I therefore hope that after the programme the employers work on schemes that provide personal as well as professional support to their entire workforces.
Beyond this though, I enjoy watching the programme because it talks about the hearts and values of people in mainstream workforces. – it highlights the things that are important to them like their families; the challenges they have faced or are facing; their dreams and aspirations and the dedication to and efforts of so many to their jobs.
Recently I watched an episode, which was focused on The Toronto Transit Commission (TTC). It very much followed the normal format with the undercover boss in disguise working with employees from different parts of the organisations. In this case the boss (who happened to be a female) as per the norm shadowed employees on their jobs, gaining insights from them without them knowing who she was. At the end, the key people that the undercover Boss worked directly with were called to the organisation’s Head Office to meet with her. She gave them feedback on the experience inclusive of some of the actions that she was going to take as a result of her experience with them. She then went on to offer them a series of rewards, which leave the employees speechless, in tears or what have you. Ultimately as one employee says – “Being acknowledged is quite humbling”
I won’t go on about the fact that all employees should be acknowledged on such a regular basis that it is the norm and no big deal. I will move on to the case of an employee named Carmen who really stood out for me.
Carmen worked a 10 hours night shift in a bus depot – running around fuelling buses, checking the oil and cleaning around 50 buses each night. She specifically worked nights because she spent time during the day caring for and providing support to elderly relatives inclusive of a mother with health problems.
She probably fits into the category of working poor – those people that work very hard, yet struggle to make ends meet. Some such people have significant formal education, however a significant number such as Carmen less so – she would have liked to continue her education, unfortunately her circumstances until the intervention of the undercover boss did not allow for it.
She falls into the category of people often classified as unskilled, yet as illustrated by the attempts of the undercover boss, the likes of me and probably you with all our skills and capabilities could not do her job. Of people doing her job, she stated “We’re not perfect, we’re not machines, but we’re trying our hardest”. As such shouldn’t we show greater appreciation of people in what we typically classify as low skilled jobs.
You make ask how? I’d say at one level – in things such as pay and benefits – the difference between minimum wage and living wages i.e. a wage that covers the cost of living. At another level the way we talk about and refer to people in such jobs – remembering their humanity and input and not referring to them in the condescending manner, which we subconsciously do on many an occasion. Finally, in the little things we all do and how we behave. In line with this case not leaving litter or food on public transport with the recognition that someone is going to have to clean up our mess.
Susan Popoola runs Conning Towers Ltd, an HR organisation focused on Talent Management and HR Transformation and Engaged For Success a Social Enterprise. She is also the published author of Touching The Heart of Milton Keynes: A Social Perspective and Consequences: Diverse to Mosaic Britain. She is also Winner Women4Africa Author of the Year 2013
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