Blue collar workers are typically defined as the working class and generally earn lower incomes than “white collar” workers. Their jobs include retail, manufacturing, mining, construction, and other jobs where a significant amount of physical labour is required.
Blue collar workers make up a significant percentage of any company’s workforce (often more than half) and are crucial to the success of any business. Despite the important role they play, many modern management practices are aimed at white collar workers, leaving out their blue collar counterparts. For a company to succeed, however, both types of employees need to be managed effectively.
Management styles for blue collar workers have in the past been mostly authoritarian. This has, however, started changing and now include more participatory approaches to leadership. This has proven beneficial as it enhances teamwork and worker ownership of company goals.
Management styles used for blue collar workers
The management styles used for blue collar workers are:
1. The authoritarian approach
This has been the “go to” management style for many companies over the years. It’s a non-inclusive method where “what the management says, goes”. Thoughts and attitudes of workers are generally not taken into consideration by the leader in charge. The effects of implementing plans on the workforce are also not considered. Every decision in this type of style is geared towards maximising the company’s productivity.
2. The participatory approach
In this type of management style, workers are included in the decision-making process of the organisation. A manager could, for example, ask employees to come up with measurable objectives that will help them achieve company goals. Because employees are more invested in the strategies that they, themselves, have helped to create, this approach helps increase worker motivation and productivity which in turn increases the company’s profitability.
For effective management of blue collar workers, managers are guided by two theories:
- The systems theory. This theory identifies the need for managers working in the blue collar fields to evaluate and understand how the different internal and external systems affect both workers and customers to increase employee motivation and efficiency. The theory advocates the use of mediation and conflict resolution skills to reduce employee stress and improve performance. Increasing employee motivation, creating a welcoming environment, and providing workers with challenging goals will also help increase productivity levels.
- Contingency theory. This theory advocates choosing the best leadership or management style to fit individual workers and situations. For situations that require immediate decision making, an authoritarian approach should be used. When there is enough time to plan and implement strategies, managers can use the participatory approach to give workers a chance to contribute.
Other than guiding employees towards company goals, managers also need to motivate and engage their employees to improve productivity and increase the chances of reaching set goals.
Motivating blue collar workers
Being the driving force of the company, it is important to ensure that blue collar workers are motivated to increase their productivity. Managers can motivate blue collar workers by:
- Involving them in the decision-making process. Managers should include blue collar workers in company meetings and encourage them to voice their suggestions and opinions. Blue collar workers can provide insider information that can help improve processes, working conditions and equipment. Meetings like this, in addition to giving the management valuable insight, will help promote trust and positive involvement for all parties involved.
- Providing the proper tools for the job. Always ensure your employees are provided with the proper equipment and tools to boost safety, productivity and morale. When you disregard requests for additional, or upgrading of, supplies and equipment from employees, it may convey a negative message to your people and have a negative effect on employee motivation.
- Provide feedback. Evaluate employee performance regularly and provide adequate feedback. If disciplinary action needs to be taken against abusive or uncooperative workers, do so in a professional and consistent manner.
- Encourage friendly competition. Set short term and long term goals for employees and departments and recognise those that perform exceptionally.
- Offer special projects. Hardworking and capable workers should be given the chance to work on special projects that will help improve their skill set.
- Compensate well. Ensure that the company’s success is shared with the workers. This can be done by compensating well and making improvements to work-centred services such as break areas and vending machines.
A well-known fact is that workers who are engaged tend to be more productive. Most managers assume employee engagement is only an issue when dealing with white collar workers. But this is far from the truth. Engagement is just as important to blue collar workers as it is to white collar workers.
Tips to improve blue collar worker engagement
- Mingle with your staff. Get to know your employees by interacting with them. Eat lunch with them every once in a while and organise gatherings with snacks and beverages. These informal interactions will help you find out genuine employee concerns so that you can fix things that are not working well.
- Organise activities out of work. Create company-sponsored events where employees and their families can participate in fun activities together. This shows the employees that you appreciate them and their happiness is a priority to you.
- Reward good behaviour. Publicly reward employees who exhibit behaviours that boost employee performance and engagement.
For a company to be successful, managers need to implement the above strategies to ensure their blue collar workers are productive, motivated and fully engaged in their work. This is because all types of employees contribute to the success of a business. Manage your workforce well and profitability will soar.
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