If you watched "Undercover Boss" last night, you saw a truly awful hair piece being sported by Frontier Airlines CEO Bryan Bedford. I think the guy should get props just for wearing something that looked like road kill and probably smelled about the same after working the tarmac in Oklahoma City in 104-degree weather and being doused with what appeared to be human pee when he was on latrine duty.
That aside, I nearly choked when I heard him profess his shock at how many of his employees were the primary wage earners for their families. Uh, sorry...but did he think they emptied airplane toilets and threw their backs out loading and unloading luggage because they thought it would be fun? A career lark to earn a few extra bucks to pay for spa days?
OK. So that was the first thing that bugged me. And here's the second: How come only a few of the employees -- who appear with the boss on this show -- basically win the lottery? I'm not saying those employees who appeared with Bedford -- from the single mom who helped the homeless to the flight attendant trying to send his kids of college -- didn't deserve what he gave them (vacations, donations to the poor, school tuition) because they certainly did. But those kinds of gestures bug me because they're done out of guilt and, of course, to make the company look good.
What did he actually do to give those employees long-term stability? Did he really invest in their careers? Did he offer to send them to school to improve their skills? Is he giving them mentors? And, what about the other workers who give 100 percent every day and work extra shifts to make ends meet? Do their contributions not deserve a fully-paid vacation to a destination of their choice -- on the company tab?
I was impressed that Bedford had enough foresight to see that the 10 percent pay cuts employees accepted during the merger needed to be restored, and moved to do that in the next three years.
But it was frustrating to know that Bedford, who said he had been in the executive ranks for many years, was so disconnected to his workforce. To know that he still didn't really get it -- that employees who give 100 percent to their job deserve to have the managers give 100 percent back to them. That means career development, training, opportunities and a real chance to have their voices heard when they have good ideas -- or voice their opinions when something isn't working.
Bedford has said more of his managers will be spending more time on the front lines with workers. Let's hope that more bosses send their managers into the trenches and figure out what works and what doesn't. Because when the economy improves, those great workers who have been ignored may take off faster than Bedford ditching that bad hair piece.
How do you think managers can better connect to what their workers are really experiencing every day on the front lines?