The term white and blue collar comes from a time when office workers (primarily men) wore white shirts, and people who worked in factories and did manual labor wore shirts with blue collars. (Women’s work–typically positions that involved caring for others–was labeled “pink collar.”)
Today, you don’t see a lot of division based on clothing. CEOs have been known to wear flip-flops with their jeans and t-shirts. But, we still have a divide in the type of work that blue-collar workers do versus the work that white-collar workers do.
And sometimes, this difference in work can result in a cultural divide, even within the same company. As white-collar workers went home in 2020, many blue-collar workers continued to work in “essential jobs” by coming in every day. Now that things are “back to normal,” many white-collar workers remain at home or hybrid, while blue-collar workers are, of course, still going to work. They never left.
It’s one of the divides between the two groups. And this can cause resentment. Companies need to be careful about this divide. Because many companies struggle to fill their blue-collar roles, here are some ideas for reducing the divide between the two groups.
Make vacation equal. How much vacation time do your white-collar workers get? Is it more than your blue-collar employees? Do the people on the manufacturing floor have to work a year before they get paid vacation time, while the office people get vacation available to them immediately? Bring those policies into one policy. You should give everyone the same vacation perks.
Is your workplace drug-free? Marijuana is legal in several states, and alcohol is legal everywhere. But you don’t want people running dangerous equipment when they are under the influence. So, what happens if someone looks visibly intoxicated? The answer should be the same when Bob, the machine press operator, looks drunk as when Steve, the accountant, does. The VP’s name should be in that hat if you do random drug testing.
Remember who supports whom. Sometimes companies forget that without a product, all the marketing in the world won’t help. The office staff supports them and should focus on making those processes run smoothly rather than the other way around.
Give your office employees a taste of the work at the heart of the business. Everyone who types on a computer all day (we used to say paper pushers) should, at minimum, understand the other side of the business. If your business is hospitality, every accountant, every marketing person, and every sales rep needs to spend a few days shadowing and helping wait, staff, and cleaning staff. If your business is manufacturing, all these people need to walk the factory floor, understand the working conditions, and clearly understand what goes on. If your business is retail, your Senior Vice Presidents should know what it’s like to stand behind a cash register and deal with an unhappy customer.
Consider bonuses for everyone. If your company offers bonuses, make sure it’s not just an office bonus but a bonus for everyone. Yes, they can be based on salary and performance but make sure your blue-collar staff gets one if the white-collar team does–and vice versa!
Do company-wide functions. Don’t have one holiday party for office staff and another for floor staff. You are one company; make it look like it!
Make money available. Typically, hourly workers receive less pay than salaried exempt workers, which can mean more financial struggles. Offering employees early access to their paychecks through earned wage access can help stave off expensive loans to cover emergencies.
You may wonder why these focus on improving the situation for your blue-collar workers better rather than focusing on white collar workers. There’s a reason for that. Culturally, we consider white-collar workers on a higher rung than blue-collar workers. Schools tell children to go to college; otherwise, they won’t be able to get a good job. Companies traditionally give lower pay and fewer benefits to their hourly staff. Even when companies struggle to hire, they are loathe to raise the salaries of those who do the work that keeps the company afloat.
And pay is another area to help build stronger relationships. If you need help filling your hourly roles or help with retention, there is a good chance you are underpaying. Even if you compare salaries with your competitors and find your wages align with theirs, you’re not paying enough if you can’t fill roles.
Yes, this increases your costs. Yes, it’s painful. But, if you receive 200 applications for every job that requires the person to sit behind a desk and you have to go to job fairs and tech schools and beg people to interview for your manufacturing positions, it’s not the desk workers who are underpaid.
Working to unify your company will help you hire and retain your most challenging to fill positions–the people who make the company function.
Learn more about how Wagefi can help redefine financial wellness for your workforce – https://wagefi.co/employer/.