We started watching Undercover Boss with the very first episode. I was intrigued that the CEO of Waste Management was willing to do a “reality’ show and I was interested in learning more about their business. I mean we see their trucks all around us – what made it tick?
Katie went along with me and we watched as he tried on different roles within his company and found both the achievers and the losers (don’t we all know who those people are) and had a chance to get back in touch with the many folks that help drive his stock price and generate all that revenue. I found it fascinating.
As usual, I paused the show frequently (to this day I don’t think Katie has EVER watched a whole show without me pausing it to add comment – poor kid) and pointed out things Katie might not notice – like salary, time clocks, working conditions, attitude, teamwork, etc. Things a young kid wouldn’t know to notice or appreciate. At the end of the damn show, I am in tears (it was so inspiring) and we could hardly wait for the next episode.*
So. How could I make this more of a “learning” opportunity?
And then it hit me. I have a friend who’s father stopped her brilliant plan to drop out of school and wait tables by making her do a spreadsheet. One of those “budgets” to see exactly what it takes to live on a waitress’ salary. She had been up in a comfortable home – didn’t really want for anything – so his plan worked. After learning it wasn’t so comfy living on the edge, she backed down and got focused (she’s eventually got to work with Clinton and Gore so that tells you his efforts weren’t misplaced!).
Let’s do a spreadsheet.
So I built an Excel file and we created five “profiles” that were single, 30 year olds who: had not finished high school; had a high school diploma; some college; graduated college; and completed grad school.
Based on those profiles, Katie got to pick her job, her housing and what she wanted to spend money on. Some expenses were mandatory – groceries, utilities, rent, taxes and a car – but some were choices and we talked those through. Everything from choosing to buy health insurance to getting a pet to contributing to savings and retirement to donating to a charity. I have loaded a copy of the spreadsheet here if you want to play with it.
It was an eye-opening experience. The immediate effect was she no longer leaves the lights on. All my years of telling her to “get PG&E out of my pocket” never made sense until now. She didn’t realize we paid for a landline phone (in addition to a cell phone) or that the Internet cost money or that she had to pay for health insurance. She didn’t know pets were expensive, that you had to save for a rainy day, that apartment renting required deposits that you might not get back and that taxes were on income, not just sales. Holy cow.
So now, when we watch Undercover Boss, the show takes on an additional meaning. She really understands the opportunities and limitations of jobs. And while she’s always been sure she was going to college, now she really understands why. And the opportunity it creates.
Home School POV: to use the spreadsheet, download it and then clear out the cells starting with housing. Then put your kid to work. Katie used Craigslist to shop for a place to live. We used our existing bills to estimate utilities. We also used the web for car payments. A few I helped her guess. We had a good discussion about charity and when it’s appropriate to take care of yourself first and when to start sharing. Have fun! Tell us how it goes! (Want more? There’s even a blog about the MBA lessons learned from the show.)
Note to TV Producers: Don’t be afraid to create curriculum to go with your television shows! There’s so much more that could be attached to programs like this that would help kids understand more about working, rules, unions, management, education, etc.
*The next episode was on Hooters and I began to get worried. I don’t have a lot of respect for the chain based on their marketing angle. But low and behold, the show actually embraced the controversy and dealt with it. Fascinating and right on!