January 23, 2012

Insights into American Work Culture Compliments “Undercover Boss”

Reviewing PlansUndercover Boss is an American television show that airs on the station CBS. In India it airs on BBC World. 

The basic plot of this show is about a CEO of a major corporation who goes ‘undercover’ and attempts various kinds of jobs within his or her organization. Imagine a CEO cleaning toilets, serving food, doing manual labor, collecting trash, changing hotel beds or any number of other lower paying jobs that do not require as much ‘education’ or ‘status’ as the CEO position.

Taking this show as a series, we can already learn a few lessons:

  • In America, there is more equality and dignity of labor for white collar vs. blue collar jobs than in other cultures.
  • In America there is cross-training. People in various positions do various jobs or understand a few different roles in their company.
  • In most companies, regardless of culture or country, the CEO is so removed from the daily workings of an average employee, that to get into the trenches with them and do their job is not easy.
  • Being a CEO and understanding how operations and management works for a wide variety of jobs that greatly differ from an office executive job is humbling for a CEO (let alone a big challenge).
  • There are many processes and procedures in American businesses to keep things on the ‘up and up’ and in a predictable way that offers a quality and consistent product to its customers.
These are a few overarching lessons of the series in general. Specifically, each episode has its own lessons to be learnt. I would like to share with you the lessons that I have learnt from different episodes that will help you understand American work culture as an Indian immigrant in the United States. In this analysis, I will highlight examples of American:
  • Work habits
  • Management styles
  • Training and procedural requirements
  • Relationship styles
  • Communication styles – including American idiomatic expressions
  • Other cross-cultural tid bits as they arise.
As a post script, the bosses and companies showcased in Undercover Boss and in these case studies are not in the typical professions that most desis in the USA work in. There are no (or rare) software companies, medical offices, hospitals, academic institutions, or engineering firms. Whatever be the setting, use these case studies to connect the dots to your work-place. Try to look at these case studies as a cultural blueprint of what to expect on the job at your American workplace. Not everything will translate into your work environment, but some of these things will be noticed at your workplace in different ways. My intention of sharing my lessons with you is to help you find more comfort and understanding on the job, and to be able to interact with your American colleagues better.

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Thank you for reading. Have a nice day.
Photo credits Microsoft Clip Art


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Learn about on-the-job communication and process in an American workplace.


Traveling to the US for business and want to know about workplace expectations? Jennifer Kumar offers a 3 hour crash course to individuals and small groups to expose them to a typical day at the office with US Americans. The interactive session can be tailored to your corporate needs. 



Chris Sufi is a freelance editor who lives in Bangalore, India. Her personal interest in language and communication inspires her to contribute through proofreading and editing. 
She can be contacted here.  

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