The secret to boosting engagement within blue collar workers

Blue-collar workers are the essence of any labor-intensive industry, and without them, many projects wouldn't reach completion. Still, we see a rise in turnovers and skill-gap. Are you willing to change that? Start with employee engagement.

April 27, 2020
Darpan Keswani

Blue-collar employees are the backbone of any labor-intensive industry. They drive future developments and shape entire societies with their efforts. It’s surprising, then, how little leaders say when it comes to making their work lives better. No wonder turnover rates are on the rise, and so is the skill-gap. How can you reverse the trend? By focusing on employee engagement.

What is workforce engagement? What is it worth?

Employee engagement is a voluntary effort to do better. It’s the construction worker who picks up waste when it’s not his job. The packaging staff who re-checks a fragile parcel after her shift ended.

As for why it matters, motivated employees 65% less likely to leave their firms, have 48% fewer accidents, and are 21% more productive. This translates to 22% more profitability, 6% higher net profit margins, and five times higher shareholder returns.

The four big pieces of the engagement puzzle

Gallup says only 32% of employees are engaged at work. Improve engagement in the workplace by updating a few business processes.

1. Training

“Investment in training has fallen to increase profit,” says Andrew Main, former president of Aramark. He adds, “(leaders are) equipping staff with minimal skills as opposed to helping them grow.” If an employee doesn’t have a solid grasp of their new responsibilities, they’ll be confused, frustrated and rushed. This leads to disengaged, unhappy workers.

Thorough training helps new recruits understand the specifics of their jobs and their role. Onboarding is also the stage when staff when staff can engage with you, ask questions, and clarify their concerns. 60% of new employees are more likely to stay with your company for longer than three years if their first impression is a positive one.

2. Communication

Internal communications in labor-intensive industries is a one-way street. Announcements and updates go from top to bottom, and that’s where the conversation ends. Today’s blue-collar workers demand more transparency. Keep your staff in the loop and ask for their opinions often, it will make them feel valued and become more engaged.

These questions can help you start a dialogue and gather feedback from your employees:

- If you could change one thing about the way we do things here, what would it be and why?
- How can we reward you for good work?
- What don’t you like about my management style?
- What can I do to make your work better?
- What’s the biggest issue in your job?
- How can we make work more fun?

How you communicate with your workers makes a difference too, so reach them through channels they like. E.g. If your staff prefer face-to-face conversations, deliver news in-person instead of an email.

3. Recognition

“How do you know if someone needs encouragement? If they’re breathing, they need it,” remarks Truett Cathy, Chick-Fil-A’s founder. Consider expressing your gratitude with public praise or a personal note. Non-monetary rewards are more meaningful and have a greater impact than a cash bonus.

Positive reinforcement is another way to help your workers achieve more. E.g. If you praise your staff when they pack something particularly well, that behaviour can become the new standard. Recognition initiatives improve employee motivation, engagement, productivity, and retention. – Dr. David Ballard, American Psychological Association.

4. Technology

Heidi Garden, author of Smart Collaboration says, “Social applications allow people to work in ways they couldn’t have before.” That’s because internal communications and operations platforms improve collaboration.

As a result, they create stronger connections between teams and boost engagement. It’s proven that teams that have a ‘cooperative mindset’ have low conflict and stress, and high overall job satisfaction.

“Engaged employees have clear roles, the right tools, and a manager who cares about them by communicating effectively with them.”
– Recruitment coach, Ross Clennett

Other parts of the employee engagement jigsaw

Above are more significant adjustments you can make to help workers feel right about their jobs. Introducing a few more small-scale practices will round up your efforts nicely.

Listen and initiate

Consider using an internal communication platform to collect and respond to feedback. The tool does not seem as formal as email so your workers will be more likely to share their opinions on it.

Besides hearing, ensure you act on staff suggestions so they know their word matters.

Challenge by gamifying

Try incentivizing your employees to make work more involving.

For example, U-Sathorn Hotel uses Eko’s Thumbs Up stickers as a measure of staff efficiency. Workers receive a monetary reward after they reach a certain threshold.

Enable personal development

The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) predicts that U.S. companies will face two million job vacancies by 2025.

For industries with a skill gap, helping workers get the education they need improves motivation and, as a result, retention.

Push peer-to-peer recognition

Peer-to-peer recognition has a positive correlation with employee engagement. In fact, 90% of staff in an SHRM survey said these programs make work more satisfying.

Discuss mistakes meaningfully

We all make mistakes. Instead of punishment, have your team discuss what went wrong and come up with a solution. It will help them learn more about the job and its intricacies.

Encourage a healthy lifestyle

Raise wellbeing at work by offering nutritious lunches or even replacing the biscuit tin in the pantry with fresh fruit.

Promote stretching breaks

Physical work can be very demanding, so employees must be twice as careful about potential injuries. Stretching helps staff say nimble and in shape to perform their daily duties.

Instill a mantra

Colin Mitchell from HBR explains that a ‘slogan’ creates a powerful connection between your brand and employees.

“Mantras unite people to a common sense of purpose, which in turn increases workplace motivation and engagement.”

Introduce CSR Initiatives

A bit or corporate goodwill goes a long way in making workers feel like they are part of something meaningful. You can even ask staff to come up with their own initiatives and help execute them.

96% of employees at AMD said contributing to a cause at work improved job satisfaction and their commitment to the company.

Engaging your employees empowers them to share their thoughts and ideas. It demonstrates that you respect them, building trust and loyalty.

As a result, turnover rates go down, workplace productivity goes up, and so does your bottom-line. In other words, invest in your blue-collar workers, the payoff is worth it.


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