“This is not a game show,” an employee featured on Fox’s new series Does Someone Have to Go? says emotionally. “This is real life.” The series, originally titled Toxic Office, visits businesses across the country, allowing employees 48 hours to evaluate and potentially terminate some of their peers. For anyone who has worked in a toxic office environment, the concept feels like a dream. Employees are given a voice regarding co-workers who might be lazy, unmotivated, gossips, or argumentative without being pegged as brownnosers or tattletales.
Personal motivations are still at play, though, especially regarding salaries and office jealousies. This is particularly true in the case of the business profiled in the series’ premiere, Velocity Merchant Services (VMS), a credit card processing firm in Downers Grove, IL, just outside of Chicago. The company’s owner, Dema Barakat, has populated her business with family members (her husband, mother, brother and cousins), who all become early targets for the other employees regarding favoritism and excessive salaries based on nepotism.
What a good corporate consultant might do is take months to slowly understand the workplace dynamics and problems presented in Does Someone Have to Go?, but the show ignites the highest drama from the situation by letting employees air their grievances in the open. In one example, employees were asked to evaluate their peers honestly on video, which is later played back to the group. The honesty (or scathing remarks) is brutal, and while there are some positive factors peppered in, only the most negative are of course given airtime.
The awkwardness and tension never leave the series, which has split up its premiere into two consecutive weeks of arguments, confrontations and family feuds. But as the employees select the three who will be considered for termination after evaluating each other based on salaries and performance, the emotions naturally begin to run high, and tears runneth over.
Production company Endemol USA knows how to squeeze a tear out of both those onscreen and viewers, having also produced Extreme Makeover: Home Edition as well as the drama-filled Big Brother. But the stakes here are different. As one employee noted, people who are living paycheck to paycheck and depend on this income could lose their job: “I am not a number. I am a person.”
The three employees tapped for potential termination have a chance to plead to their co-workers to keep their positions. Their presentations can be genuinely emotional and frustrating, particularly when someone has been selected unfairly because their co-workers don’t really understand what they do, or they haven’t had the tools to be as effective as they should be, while others are pardoned for sentimental reasons. Management, everyone learns, is hard.
While some employees certainly do deserve to be put on notice, for others it’s just an important wake-up call. But one wonders what the atmosphere in these offices will be like once the camera crews leave. Will anyone fully recover from those truth bombs? Or did they truly clear the air?
Does Someone Have to Go? is not easy to watch, though it is engrossing to see how alliances are formed and trust is broken. But it is not a game show. While its format plays up to drama and hype to create two hours of TV tension, it manages to make important points about how broken the corporate machine can be, and why. Sometimes people do have to go to make a business thrive, but watching it happen is no game.