Undercover Boss is a television franchise where, in each episode a senior executive works undercover in their own company to investigate how their firms really work and to identify what can be improved.

An episode from the UK series that recently aired in Australia, saw Pam Finnis, managing director of one of Britain’s biggest aged care provider HC-One going “undercover” to better know the ins and out of the organisation and to see why some facilities are struggling.

In an episode that is emotionally moving, it raises the question – what could Australian aged care senior management really learn if they experienced working “on the field” in caring for the elderly?

The episode opens with Pam, a former regional manager for Southern Cross, which closed amidst scandal and debt, expressing her guilt for not being able to bring change due to their financial situation.

When HC-One bought out a third of Southern Cross’s former homes, they wanted to put someone who knew the homes well. Pam saw this as her opportunity to step up and bring change.

Determined to “deliver a Rolls Royce when a Mini was all they asked for”, Pam was determined to improve the state of regional aged care. However, eight months after the buyout, 20 per cent of beds were still unoccupied.

To improve occupancy of any facility, high quality care is essential but Pam worries that high staff turnover may be compromising this.

Pam, how began her career in aged care as a carer at the age of 14, goes undercover a “Helen”, and begins her first day at facility in Durham where she is set out to work the night shift.

At the facility Pam find that during the day there are eight carers on hand to take care of the residents, but during nights this is cut down to four carers.

One of the issues raised was the “choice of the residents”. With so many residents to be put to bed, they often get rushed by the few night staff even if they don’t wish to get to bed at that time.

And these four carers are also given the extra tasks of “endless paperwork” and housekeeping.

Senior carer Donna, who is put to cleaning the facility once the residents are asleep, says there are other more productive things she could be doing with her time, “I could spending time with the residents that are awake”.

Donna explains that if she were going the choice of having more staff or a pay rise, she’d have more staff and “make it on a one to one basis”.

With so much paperwork to do, Donna admits that she often comes in on her days off to complete the work as she doesn’t have time during her shifts.

Pam finds this unacceptable, explaining that Donna’s days off should be her own, and that she should not be expected to come in to finish uncompleted paperwork.

One of the more heartwarming angles of the show is when the senior executive is able to reward hard-working employees.

Pam is able to surprise Donna when she reveals that there is no “Helen”. Pam then commends Donna for being “gentle, kind and considerate” and that she is exactly the kind of staff HC-One are after.

Pam offers to have Donne come to head office with her so that they come discuss ways to resolve the staff shortage and time management.

To show her appreciation and to faster the potential she sees in Donna, Pam offers to be her mentor and teach her more about management development, and to help her progress in her career.

There is much that can be learnt from this episode of the Undercover Boss.

Having the “boss” come and see what the staff do and what they go through is not about pick apart the industry, it allows higher management to see what changes and improvements can be made.

And to really appreciate the hard working staff that they have caring for their elderly.

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