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Blue Collar Value: Work Ethic


Work Ethic: Work ethic is a belief that hard work and diligence have a moral benefit and an inherent ability, virtue or value to strengthen character and individual abilities. It is a set of values centered on importance of work and manifested by determination or desire to work hard. Social ingrainment of this value is considered to enhance character through hard work that is respective to an individual's field of work.
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Salary Employment: A fixed regular payment, typically paid on a monthly or biweekly basis but often expressed as an annual sum, made by an employer to an employee, especially a professional or white-collar worker.
[Google definitions]

Hourly Employment:
An hourly worker or hourly employee is an employee paid an hourly wage for their services, as opposed to a fixed salary. Hourly workers may often be found in service and manufacturing occupations, but are common across a variety of fields. Hourly employment is often associated but not synonymous with at-will employment. As of September 2017, the minimum wage in the United States for hourly workers is $7.25 per hour, or $2.13 per hour for a tipped employee. As a tipped employee, wages plus tips must equal the standard minimum wage or the employer is required to provide the difference.
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How hourly employment affects the employee

I won’t be delving into Salary Employment, because as an employee and in management, I’ve never experienced it. My paycheck has always been dependent on the hours I spent at the job, with paid breaks, and without. The Blue Collar Employee is almost always hourly. With the given exceptions of tipped employee’s and those with incentive earnings, the blue collar worker will see a paycheck reflective of the time they’ve given see section on rewarded behavior for clarification. The job difficulty itself, whether it be working as a home health aide, or being a cashier at a register, may have no effect on the paycheck.

What about financial reward? Among other reasons, a blue collar worker may not see a raise because of excellent work, or quality perseverance. In a lot of the blue collar fields, raises are given on a yearly basis. Sometimes in the range of 3-25 cents an hour.

Roughly $1.20 - $10.00 a week, $62.40 - $520 a year.

The pay, as an incentive, isn’t what keeps employee’s coming back daily to their job. As an at-will employee, a person can lose their job for any reason (other than verifiable, provable discrimination, which is extremely hard to fight, and requires a good deal of money to take to court).

So what keeps the cashier coming to work, and doing their diligence to perform well? As someone with experience as a laborer and a manager, I can tell you that any worker can lose their job or keep them depending on company policy, and labor costs. As a manager, when you recognize a great employee, you do everything in your power to keep them on the team. As a team member, having a great co-worker can make even the most difficult tasks a little easier to complete.

Cause and effect, the reward of working hard

Overtime is most commonly given when an employee has accumulated more than 40 hours in a work week. A lot of blue collar folk depend on overtime to supplement the low wages they receive. The most valuable commodity for a blue collar employee? Their time.

A hypothetical situation:

Jan often works Saturdays to help the shop catch up on work that is overflowing by Friday. While Jan knows she will only see an amount extra on her paycheck relative to a full tank of gas, or a paying that extra large bill without as much financial stress, she shows up diligently to her job, prepared to do whatever it takes to keep in the graces of her peers, her boss, and by default the company. This weekend is her nieces wedding though, and has to say she can not work on Saturday.

The next week, Jan comes down with the flu, and despite her best efforts to convince herself to just tough it out and head to work, she calls in sick. Her company does not have sick days. But she works Saturdays, so she could make up for it. When she returns to work, the boss doesn’t ask her about Saturday. So she approaches the subject. She is told since she didn’t work last Saturday, the hours are given to a different employee.

While distraught and angry, she must continue on. Her fellow employee thanks her later for not pulling rank, because they have a child in need of dental surgery, and the overtime would help with the co-payment. Jan still does the job to the best of her ability, hoping that she gets the overtime back soon, but humbled by the idea that she hadn’t considered someone else may be in greater need of the Saturday pay.

Blue collar folks know the value of their time, they know humility, they know how to make sure things get done, and maintain a relationship with their corporation. Because the consequences of not being able to do that can mean losing a job, and losing the ability to afford that full tank of gas.

The body of work

Another thing Blue Collar folk often sacrifice with little payoff, is their bodies. If a corporation has a sign by the time clock that says “Employee’s are 200% responsible for their own safety”, they probably aren’t very strict about OSHA regulations, or the enforcement of safe working procedures. The default of these companies is to lay any physical injury on the employee’s habits instead of the unreasonable task the employee may have been assigned.

For example, A company has a team lift policy that says anything over 50 pounds must be moved by two people. But they only have one night shift employee working a job that regularly requires the employee to move heavy objects to complete the night’s tasks. The reason these companies get away with this, is they will lay it on the employee. They would argue the night shift should have to seek out someone else to help them move the objects. In many toxic work environments this just wouldn’t be possible because just like that one employee, everyone else is overworked and understaffed.

A blue collar worker is a problem solver. A blue collar worker knows how to navigate toxic environments, and stressful situations. A customer service employee may not be in direct physical harm, but they deal with any number of people throughout a day that would believe they are servile merely because of the job they hold. Customer service has to keep a quick wit, and a steady emotional pace through even the worst mob of Karens.

(A Karen: A customer that upon being dissatisfied in some way, which may or may not pertain to the place they are shopping at, will pursue a tactic of harassing, degrading and bullying the employee. They believe it is their right to treat employees in a way suitable to some imaginary station in order to elevate themselves and get whatever twisted satisfaction they were seeking)

Blue collar workers are adept and skilled at working through physically and mentally challenging situations. Day after day for little pay, they face the challenges thrown at them for that paycheck that will get them through the next week.

The value of a Sharp knife

Safety procedures don’t just protect the individual, but the whole crew. From the CEO touring the warehouse floors, to the hourly worker there to sweep every morning. The blue collar worker, despite a hazardous environment has to keep themselves vigilant even under the pressures of completing a job on time. In many industrial settings, a mistake can cost a teammate’s life, or your own.

A forklift carrying a load from the now empty semi trailer. As seen from inside the trailer.
Example [Heavy Machinery]:

Driving heavy machinery isn’t just like driving a car. On a forklift for example, the forks are a very real danger. On uneven terrain, if the forks are not properly lifted and tilted, they can hit obstructions. If they are too high, and someone steps in front of them from behind an obstacle, it could change a minor injury to a fatal one.

When moving heavy cargo, if the tilt and height is incorrect, it could lead to the tipping of the cargo, and the forklift with it. A forklift has many mechanical levers to control these forks, and everything is taken in account as the driver moves through an environment from point A to point B. Environment and load, weight shifts, angles, speed, tilt, all play a role in operating a machine safely.

A heavy machine operator has to be able to adapt to changing conditions quickly, and under any amount of stress. If that load tips, if that person steps into a blind spot, if the ground gives way, if the weather leaves the ground slippery, if the hydraulic line blows, if the load starts tipping. Quick and safe adjustments are made and required on a regular basis. Vigilance and knowing ones’ machine are requirements. They help the driver do a safer, more efficient job.

The 30 foot tall Front-loader requires careful precision, and observing your surroundings at all times. To drive a piece of machinery like the frontloader isn’t just a skill, but a duty to keeping yourself, and others in the workplace safe from harm. The blind spot on these machines is massive, and almost entirely around its base, where the five foot tall wheels could easily drive over a mid size sedan. Being considerate of the people in your workspace isn’t just a concept, it could be a matter of life or death.

Bob from accounting may decide to take a shortcut through the plant, and be unaware that large machinery has the right of way. The driver must always be aware that someone else may unknowingly wander into the path of danger, and be constantly aware of the fellow coworkers, and new changes in their surroundings. While safety protocols are there to protect all employee’s, some aren’t aware of the very real danger they are in if the rules are not followed. Or they may be Bob from accounting who was never trained to understand the yellow pathways are painted on the warehouse floor as a walking path to keep them safely away from heavy equipment traffic.

A cook can tell you the value of a sharp knife, and how dangerous a dull knife can really be. If the knives in the kitchen are always kept sharp, and maintained properly, a respect happens in the kitchen for these objects. The job is done more efficiently, safely and no one waves around a knife for giggles, or out of complacency. The other reason dull knives are more dangerous, is slippage. The more pressure you have to put on a dull knife, the higher the likely-hood the knife, or the chef’s hand can slip, causing a serious cut. As a related metaphor, blue collar folks have to remain sharp at all times. They have to find ways to keep their jobs safe, and their fellow workers safe, even if there are a few dull blades in the batch.

How do they do it?

Despite monotony, lack of incentive, or dissatisfaction with the task, blue collar employees will find ways to make the job they do fulfilling, find a way to take pride in their work, and strive to do their task ‘above and beyond’ what is expected of them. And they do this without a financial incentive.

Some jobs can be thankless, dirty, physically challenging, monotonous, and not provide much satisfaction. While the paycheck is the end goal as an hourly employee, there is so much more to a job than just paying the bills.

In all jobs, in all parts of the workforce, your time is your commodity. If, for example, you spend your days sorting through dirty smelly recycling, you’re also spending 40+ hours a week doing this very thing. Away from the comfort of your home. Away from relaxation, and away from the things you’d rather be doing.

A blue collar employee will find a way to attribute their own reward to any task. They like to take pride in driving that crane safely and skillfully. They want to do that weld with quality and stability. While a simple beed might meet minimal standards, they take the extra effort to form a weld that is less likely to fail under pressure. They’ve put thought and effort into going home proud of what they had done for the day. The paycheck pays the bills, but doing an exceptional job keeps them sane.

How does this all relate to Work Ethic?

If you as an employer are seeking someone with work ethics; look no farther than the employee who spent years in a blue collar job.

Blue Collar workers show up every day, to do a job with dignity and pride, even though there’s no financial reward to. Their environments can be hazardous, high stakes, and they may be under extreme pressure on a daily basis, but blue collar workers adapt and overcome.

Until you’ve worked over a broiler every weekend on a team to successfully complete the ‘dinner rush’, the visceral meaning of the words ‘We were slammed at work!’, may not mean the same thing. A great cook doesn’t just cook excellent food. They take pride in providing it on time, and to all the patrons, which may mean multitasking and working under immense pressure. Not for a bonus, or financial gain, but to go home, probably exhausted, with a clear pride in what they accomplished at work.

The blue collar employee shows up. They do a thankless task, sometimes even physically dangerous or mentally daunting task, and return every day to do it again. The blue collar employee shows up every day, day after day, and gives all they can.

They’re the cashiers that strive to have happy customers, the restaurant cook who wants every meal to be perfect, the forklift driver who has learned to be so skilled at driving and caring for their equipment, they can do impossible tasks with ease.

And it’s not for the paycheck. Did you notice the minimum wage in the descriptions at the beginning? While most places tend to pay 3-7$ over this per hour, most blue collar workers are still struggling with poverty. While the paycheck keeps them alive, housed, fed, there are still 40 hours of the week they have to give to a corporation to attain a bare minimum needed to survive.

Why do they still do a good job? Why do they show up every day? Why do they maintain quality workmanship, and customer satisfaction despite such a low payoff?

Partly because our society has taught the ranks of blue collar that their job can be forfeit at any time. And partly because without a work ethic, being exceptional at their duty, 40 hours is a great sacrifice, instead of time spent building pride in what they’ve earned.

Blue Collar drives the labor pools of industrial, service and healthcare fields (amongst others). These workers are essential to our society. They don’t work for fame, or admiration. They don’t work in these jobs because of financial gain.

I submit for your approval that a blue collar background can give great value as a new hire. Their experience and dedication to blue collar work tells you more about their work ethic, and determination than a college degree might. Blue Collar jobs are valuable, they are great people, and they deserve a chance.

Nellie Tobey

Image credit:
Photo by Elevate on Unsplash: Forklift driver, as seen from inside the empty trailer.

Photo by Johnathan Macedo on Unsplash: Cover image. A chef enjoying the flame.

Top comments (2)

silentkdev profile image
Andrew Knox

Fantastic read Nellie!

nelliesnoodles_90 profile image

Thank you!!!