Maybe you saw the news footage, a baggage handler in the cargo hold of a 737 ‘unloading’ passenger luggage by throwing each bag as hard as he could through the door and onto the conveyor belt.
Most bags crashed into the frame of the hold’s door, and many fell unceremoniously onto the tarmac.
You could say that this employee was engaged.
Engaged in being so angry or careless that destroying customer property seemed like a reasonable response.
The public-facing employees of airlines, like all companies, are people in uniforms, suits and business dresses or what we define as white-collar workers. Employees, like the guy throwing baggage around, are classified as blue-collar.
Blue and White Collar
The terms “blue-collar” and “white-collar” are occupational generalities that distinguish trades & manual labour from those who perform office & professional jobs.
Most of us have no idea how valuable these blue-collar workers are.
Even in professional office settings, blue-collar workers keep the lights on, washrooms cleaned & stocked, sidewalks shovelled and a million other tasks that keep the organization working.
When discussing the importance of corporate culture, work environment and employee engagement, we usually focus on white-collar workers. These people account for 40% of the North American workforce.
The remaining 60% are technicians, repair workers, service workers, labourers, salespersons, operators, skilled trade workers and assemblers. So it is a mistake not to take blue-collar workers into account when considering how to engage employees.
The ultimate goals of employee engagement from an employer’s perspective are to enhance productivity and efficiency.
Blue-collar engagement does more than increase productivity; it:
– Decreases turnover and absenteeism
– Reduces safety incidents, quality incidents and costs of operation, and
– Improves relationship among coworkers
Different motivation factors drive people, but we all share the same everyday basic human needs as described by Maslow.
Here are five ways to boost blue-collar worker engagement:
– Working conditions including working facilities, time, rest, schedule, workplace health and safety. Most white-collar workers have latitude and freedom to get up from their desks, walk around and take breaks on their schedule. People whose job is tied to a machine or a specific place can’t wander off when they like.
Most bosses have no idea or have forgotten what blue-collar workers face while doing their job. As a boss, you should walk the floor and talk to your blue-collar team to see what work conditions they face and create conversations about how you can improve their lot.
– Fair wages ensure the quality of life for all workers. Many blue-collar jobs such as welders, oil, and construction workers can earn six-figure salaries. But more often, they are the lowest paid in any organization. Blue-collar workers often have a perception that the people in suits are making way more money for way less work.
Many workers are okay with lower wages if they feel it is fair, so consider systems that make salary grids transparent.
– Job security in the age of high-tech machinery and automation can seem tenuous. Blue-collar workers face fierce competition from better-educated people and more and more from AI and robots.
Are you creating a safe workplace and using the best of change management processes when introducing new technology? Are you offering on-the-job training and making employees feel that the company is committed to them at the same level the company expects in return.
– Recognition – Employees will feel more engaged when their contributions are recognized. Along with monthly and yearly rewards, values-based recognition is needed to make blue-collar workers align with the organization’s goals and success.
– Communication – Leave out the corporate-speak when talking to blue-collar workers. Communications should be done straightforwardly and transparently to make sure all of them understand clearly.
By openly, regularly and honestly, getting employee feedback will help you build trust and handle work-related issues timely and effectively. When blue-collar workers feel that their voice is being heard, they will be more motivated and engaged.
To sum up
Whether work is done primarily with the head or the hands, there should be no status difference by the job you do.
Companies need to keep an eye on blue-collar workers to achieve the common goals as they are vital to meeting your objectives and can quickly become invisible.