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Undercover Boss: Communicating with Employees in the Workplace

Updated on December 5, 2012
ChrisMcDade8 profile image

Christine McDade is a Human Resources professional (PHR & SHRM-CP) with over 18 years in the public sector.

Sitting down with the employee, one on one, will give a boss an opportunity to communicate with the employee in a positive manner..
Sitting down with the employee, one on one, will give a boss an opportunity to communicate with the employee in a positive manner.. | Source

After watching several episodes of Undercover Boss, I am reminded of the importance of communicating with employees in an organization. Management must regularly reach out to employees to get a true sense of what challenges they are facing, what suggestions they have for improving the workplace, and what goals they have for helping the organization be successful. Such employee input can help an organization reach its short and longterm goals. When management regularly listens to its employees, they will get a true sense of where the organization is headed and what excellent employees are going to take it there.

Employers can learn so much from their employees by spending some one on one time with them.

A Disguise Puts them Side by Side

Employees are the force that makes an organization move and excel amongst the competition. In the Undercover Boss television program, CEO's, owners and senior leadership go undercover to spend time with the company's employees. Going undercover often means personal disguises of changes in hairstyle and/or hair color, eye glasses, and any clothing that would certainly hide the true identity of the company leader. These bosses are set up to work side by side with employees on the assembly line, front counter, distribution center, etc., in order to get a true idea of how things are going in the workplace. As the employees are unaware of the true identity of their new co worker, they become relaxed enough to share their feelings, impressions and concerns about the company and work environment with them. In doing so, the boss gets acquainted with the employees and all they have to reveal to them. In many situations, the viewer senses that there is a genuine camaraderie between the disguised boss and the employee as they communicate with one another about different aspects of the job. In general, employees appreciate the opportunity to speak about their employer and the positive and negative aspects of their job.

What Will the Boss Hear from the Employee?

There are many insightful things that will be shared between a company boss and an employee who take time to communicate with one another. While the information shared might be difficult to hear at times, the open and honest sharing of information can provide some valuable feedback as to what is working well and what could use a little improvement in the workplace. Whatever the outcome, a boss can take this information and run with it to make life better for employees and the work they do.

What did Igor say to the 7-11 Undercover Boss?

  • Ownership - In the clip included in this hub, the employee, Igor, describes the work truck he drives as his "baby" and that he would wrap his arms around it if he was physically able to do so. His care and "ownership" of his truck portrays a level of pride he has for what he does and gives particular reference to the vehicle which makes his job possible. Asking employees about their offices, equipment, vehicles, etc., will often result in a sense of pride from the employees who value their part of making their job easier. Speaking to employees about these things may also give management an earful of what equipment or resources they do not have to perform their job. The bosses will need to be prepared for what they hear, as there may be some concern communicated to them. If obtaining these desired resources is feasible to the company, the boss should provide these tools to assist the employees in doing their jobs in an efficient manner. The employee who made the request is going to feel a sense of appreciation for the boss who took their suggestion seriously.
  • Motivation - Another question that is asked of Igor is what motivates him. Igor replies to that question in a personal manner that speaks from his heart and soul. He describes his gratitude for being in the United States where freedom provides opportunities for everyone to succeed. The undercover boss was impressed with the sentiment he shared and felt a sense of pride in being a part of the American dream for this employee.
  • Attitude - The undercover boss was able to spend several hours with Igor during a typical shift for this 7-11 employee. Igor's positive attitude contributed to a great outlook on the job and brought many smiles to those around him in the workplace. The undercover boss was very touched by his work ethic and was later able to recognize him for it.

Managers who spend time with subordinates to learn more about their work efforts should take notes about suggestions that they hear from them.
Managers who spend time with subordinates to learn more about their work efforts should take notes about suggestions that they hear from them. | Source

Spending Time with Employees is Time Well Spent

Any boss can spend time with an employee to get a better sense of what motivates them in the job. One does not have to go to the extremes that the Undercover Boss television show does to get the results that each boss on this program achieves. Simply taking time out of a busy schedule and dedicating attention to the employee will allow for some productive one on one time between employees. Igor was fortunate to have a boss who participated in this program because a member of senior management was able to personally see his attributes and positive contribution to the company. A boss in any organization can achieve the same results by investing some time to listen to employees.


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      4 years ago

      Great article, very informative. I have been both, too. The best boss I ever had made it a point to get to know me and chatted with me every day. Too many bosses rely on others to evaluate, rather than themselves, never taking into consideration jealousies, conflicting personalities, etc.


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