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North Central Business Journal News

(September 2000 issue)

by Sandra Kay Neal, Ph.D.

     Recently the Plant Manager for a heavy industrial manufacturing company asked me:  How can white collar workers communicate to and motivate blue collar workers.  I struggle sometimes with this because our management’s background, education, values, motivations are SO completely different from our entry level employees.

     There are many blue-collar employees whose values are exact replicas of management’s.  These employees are easy to manage because all managers have to do is provide them the same things they themselves want.  These employees are usually rewarded with advancement to supervisor, and are often lifted up as model employees in company newsletters.

     The difficulty occurs when there are differences in the values and perspectives between employees and managers.  Managers faced with this situation often express frustration and irritation because they see the differences as indicating something is lacking in their employees.  They make comments like “employees have no ambition; they don’t care; they have no pride.” 

     The first step in working with people whose approach to work is different is accepting that this is OK.  It is not helpful to attempt to “improve” these employees.  People resent having their values belittled.

     A frequent area of difference involves the relationship between working and living.  Many managers live to work while many non-managers work to live.  Managers often get a thrill from their jobs.  They thrive on their responsibilities.  They think about their work even when not on the job.  They define themselves in terms of their work.  Many non-managers work in order to be able to live as they prefer.  Their real life occurs outside of work.  Work is incidental to life. 

     People who work in order to live don’t really care what work they do as long as they are able to do what they really want to do outside of work.  If they can skip some aspect of a job because no one seems to notice, that is fine.  If they have been doing something in a slipshod manner for a while, they may resent a new manager “riding” them for doing things that way.  These behaviors are often interpreted by managers as evidence the employees don’t care.  Rather than being provoked at the “lack of caring”, it is useful to accept that these employees care about other things.  Work is simply what is necessary to do that which is valuable. 

     Managers who live to work usually enjoy variety and the opportunity to develop new skills.  People who work to live are often burdened when their jobs are enlarged with new tasks.  They may feel used if they are asked to participate in self-managed work groups.

     Rather than attempting to change the values of these employees, it is useful to appreciate these values.  When those values are appreciated, not just tolerated, managers will discover ways to applaud the values.  They will discover how to ask employees to do things that are in line with what they value.

     For instance, an employee has been doing a task in a slipshod manner, which allowed that employee to finish quickly and be able to avoid overtime.  If that employee values time outside of work, the manager can say, “Doing the task in the correct manner takes a bit more time initially but it saves you from having to work overtime to do it again.  That way you can count on having all of your non-work time to yourself.”

     Appreciating and accepting the values of employees enables managers to communicate and motivate those who are different from themselves.  People respond positively to those who appreciate what is important to them.  Managers who demonstrate their appreciation of their employees’ values usually receive reciprocation from the employees.  The employees may not understand why something is important to the manager, but they’ll do it to humor the manager because the manager demonstrates respect for the employees by accepting what is important to them. 

Sandra Kay Neal holds a Ph.D. in Industrial/Organizational Psychology and has 19 years experience helping organizations solve human resource issues.  Her company, Synergistic Organizational Solutions, specializes in aiding small businesses. Dr. Neal can be reached at sos_hr@localaccess.com.

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