I just saw an episode of the television show “Undercover Boss” that offered a good lesson for employers everywhere. 

For those of you who are not familiar with it,  “Undercover Boss” is a CBS show where an oblivious CEO who is completely unaware of what actually happens within their company, dons a cheap and unconvincing disguise and spends a week working undercover within the organization, meeting employees along the way, who, while turning out to be the bedrock of success for the company, have every possible malady and crisis occurring in their personal lives. The CEO learns that their companies do not train, supply, support, or develop their employees at any acceptable level. One CEO actually found that his female employees had to urinate in a can when on the job. Ironic when you realize his company was named “Waste Management”. The program ends every week with the CEO revealing himself to said employees, giving them each a bazillion dollars, a paid vacation to Disneyland, new teeth, and a promotion to head up a new department designed to do whatever they happen to be good at, like peeing in a can. I personally think it is a payoff to keep them quiet about the CEO’s inability to actually perform any job within their organization.

If you haven’t guessed, this isn’t my favorite show. However, as a typical married couple my wife and I have to have something to watch, or risk having to “talk”, which always gets me in trouble, so we load the DVR up with a bevy of programs to have something to watch in the off season.

I have often joked in the office about doing a spoof video of “Undercover Boss”. The joke of course being that, as a small office everyone knows me, and is already aware that I am incapable of performing any job within my organization. In the real show we always see the CEO’s palatial home(s), fancy cars, private jets and drop dead gorgeous families. In my version you would see a modest home with a lawn in desperate need of new sod, a Hyundai Santa Fe that hasn’t been washed since 2010, and our 4 cats, one of whom is blind. The highlight of the home portion would likely be me mopping up the rare but occasional accident when blind kitty is in the box but doesn’t know his fanny is over the side. You would not see my wife as she refuses to appear on camera. She hates having her picture taken. Even our wedding photos are just of me. They came out ok, but frankly the one of me throwing the bouquet just looks staged. 

I suppose I could wash the Hyundai before we commenced filming, or try to borrow my wife’s Mercedes, but she requires a hefty security deposit.

But as usual, I digress…..

The episode about which I opine featured Jose Mas, CEO of MasTec Industries, an energy transmission construction company. They build pipelines, transmission lines and other energy infrastructure. The company was founded by Mas’ father, a Cuban immigrant who passed away in 1997, at the age of 58. By Mas’ own account, his father was a “hands on” businessman, involved in every facet of the operation. This really became apparent in one segment of the show. 

Mas was in Oklahoma, where he had just demonstrated his complete inability to run a piece of heavy equipment while working with a field supervisor named Rich, who was from Georgia. Rich had been with the company almost 15 years and was preparing to retire. At one point, Rich made the statement that he “got hurt real bad” while working for MasTec. With the shows history of featuring employees who willingly rip the bejesus out of their employers while standing in front of multiple camera crews, I braced for the worst, but it didn’t happen. Rich explained that he fell in a hole and crushed his ankle, the treatment of which involved surgery and multiple screws. He followed up by saying, after a significant pause, “MasTec treated me real good on that deal”. 

And what was it that made Rich feel that way? The CEO at the time, Mas senior, reached out. He personally contacted both Rich and his wife to express his concerns and offer any assistance they needed while Rich was off the job. It was a small gesture that resulted in a huge long term benefit. MasTec likely did other things to make the process a positive outcome, but it struck me that it was the outreach to his wife that so impressed Rich.  

Communication with an injured worker from a high level of the organization is great. Communication with their family and loved ones is pure gold. What a brilliant concept. It is even more remarkable if you do a little basic math on this story. The accident happened while Mas senior was still alive, so over 14 years ago. Rich is approaching his 15 year mark with the company, so was a relatively new employee when this happened. MasTec was formed in the ’60’s, and was a very large and successful company by the mid nineties when this accident likely occurred. That makes this story even more unique, that a CEO of a large established firm made that effort for a relatively new and unknown employee.  

While I poke fun at the show, it does actually demonstrate a philosophy I have long agreed with, which is simply called MBWA; Management By Wandering Around. It highlights how important it is for senior managers to leave their offices and get out in the trenches, where customers are serviced and key policies are deployed, in order for them to really know what is happening in their company. And the lesson for those of us in the realm of workers’ compensation is that these same people need to be aware of and involved with comp, not just at a financial or statistical level, but a very personal one as well. 

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