Undercover Boss: Where Reality TV Intersects with the Workplace

By George J. Ramos, Jr.

CBS recently began airing Undercover Boss,a reality television series that places the CEO’s or Presidents of businesses in entry-level positions to work alongside unwary lower-level employees.  fraud preventionUsually, the CEO’s of large businesses are so far up the chain of command, they lack exposure to the day-to-day activities of the employees who drive their companies’ profitability. The show, both entertaining and enlightening, makes some very important points.

Our team of investigators have decades of experience managing and working in “undercover” workplace investigations. Our clients, many of which are large employers, primarily utilize our services to root out theft, identify workplace substance abuse or to meet a specific set of objectives. These clients usually contact us in reaction to recent incidents, such as discovering an Operations Manager has been embezzling tens of thousands of dollars through phony vendors, or because an employee working while impaired by crystal methamphetamine caused a workplace accident resulting in a death or injury.

But many smart clients are interested in taking a proactive approach, utilizing our services to gauge employee morale and safety, identify employees who aren’t getting the recognition they deserve because of favoritism, discrimination or nepotism, and to review the real impact of company policies and practices. They want to understand why some employees are not advancing and increasing skill sets, or why sales have stagnated when they should be beating competitors.

For proactive and astute employers, we recommend a different type of undercover investigation: the Workplace Evaluation.

When conducting a Workplace Evaluation, one of our main objectives is to assist our client in identifying the strengths and weaknesses in management’s current implementation and governance of employee policies and job assignments. In addition, we can provide detailed insight into employee/employer relations, training, safety and health practices, and a myriad of other matters of concern.

The intent of this service is not necessarily to develop information or evidence to discipline or assist in prosecuting employees, temporary employees, contractors or vendors, but to offer management various strategic solutions to minimize legal exposure, safeguarding the workplace against disruptive activity, and gauging the effectiveness of management maximizing profitability and minimizing preventable problems.

A recent episode of Undercover Boss illustrates the unique benefits of conducting a Workplace Evaluation. This episode focused on “1-800-Flowers” and utilized the company’s Chief Operating Officer, Chris McCann as the undercover employee. Through the process of working alongside his employees, Mr. McCann realized that many of the hardest-working employees were being improperly utilized by their company.

Many employees went unrewarded for above-average work, leaving them little motivation to continue working hard. Other employees’ innovative ideas were being completely ignored, which discouraged them from bringing forward new ideas for better company products and productivity.

Mr. McCann immediately made sweeping changes at the company, adding employee incentives for meeting goals, and he even used one employee’s idea for a new flower bouquet, naming it after her and offering it for sale nationally.

This episode also served as a great example of why Workplace Evaluations are best left to professionals: Jim McCann, CEO and founder of 1-800-Flowers, was deemed too high-profile to work undercover, due to his appearances in television commercials for 1-800-Flowers. His brother Chris McCann, COO, instead, went undercover. Even still, there were risks associated with conducting their own internal investigation. Did they even stop to consider the potential danger he could have faced, had he stumbled upon an internal theft or drug operation?

For many reasons, we recommend our qualified, licensed and experienced Undercover Operatives, and not the owner of a business to conduct internal evaluations. This is especially true in smaller organizations, where it would be apparent to everyone that the President of the Company is “pretending” to be an entry-level employee.

A review of workplace demographics is also essential when selecting an undercover operative. For example, if the business is in a warehouse environment where 95% of the workforce is Spanish-speaking Hispanic males under the age of 35, a 60-year-old Caucasian male may “stick out” and would likely have a difficult time assimilating. Such an employee may be perceived as a “snitch” or “big brother”. To prevent that, we work with our clients to assess workforce demographics and to select an Operative best suited to “fit in” to obtain the most accurate picture of daily activities in a specific department or position.

Finally, our Operatives work without a camera crew hovering over them, recording their every movement and conversation. From our experience, a successfully Workplace Evaluation is one in which the Undercover Operative’s co-workers never knew that our agent was anything other than a regular employee.

The benefits of conducting a Workplace Evaluation

  • Implementation of change and improvement of worker conditions
  • Identifying legal vulnerabilities, such as health and safety risks
  • Improving your bottom-line and revitalizing your company’s future
  • Discovering potential problems that could negatively impact morale
  • Obtaining otherwise indiscoverable actionable facts and data
  • Analyzing information to proactively solve potential problems and improve the business

As Undercover Boss has demonstrated, there is currently a strong interest in proactive Workplace Evaluations. If you’re among the many employers far too busy running a business to star in a reality television show, consider the benefits of a Workplace Evaluation.

 

Posted in Corporate Investigations, Investigations, Security, Workplace.

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