North Central Business Journal News
MANAGING "DIFFERENT" EMPLOYEES
(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 firstname.lastname@example.org.