Managing Millennials For Dummies
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In the case of blue collar versus white collar, you have two potentially disparate types of work. White-collar workers are depicted as spending “normal” 9–5 work hours in an office or cubicle, whereas blue-collar workers may hold a graveyard shift and are typically on location, either in their specified field or an industrial location. White collar typically requires higher education, whereas blue collar requires more physical labor and technical skills. White-collar workers may be compensated with a salary, whereas blue-collar workers may be paid hourly and belong to a union.

Though blue-collar jobs have more than their fair share of Millennial employees, the Millennials in these roles don’t feel like the generational conversation applies to them — and for good reason. Much of the Millennial-workplace talk, research conducted by large research houses, and media that talks about that research focuses on white-collar positions.

Though white-collar jobs therefore seem like an easier sell, don’t discount the value of blue-collar jobs to the Millennial generation. Millennials and the next generation are eyeing trade roles as a way to succeed, find stability, avoid debt, and bypass sitting behind a desk for hours on end, day after day.

Wearing a white collar

Here’s a look at white-collar jobs as seen through a Millennial lens:
  • Depending on the job, there can be a high degree of flexibility in rules and regulations. It’s possible to accommodate work-life integration, allowing Millennials to fit in doctor’s appointments or midday workouts.
  • Earning potential, as well as career progression, has no cap. Even if you’ve reached the limit within a certain organization, job-hopping around other white-collar roles means that Millennials can constantly seek to level-up their careers.
  • The office setting allows for providing some of the little perks and benefits that are small but important pieces in Millennial retention: building opportunities for collaboration, providing catered goodies, and so on.
  • Salaried roles mean there can be a focus on a results-oriented approach that frees Millennial employees from feeling as if they’re being micro-managed. It lets them accomplish tasks in their own way on their own time, as long as they’re meeting predetermined goals.
Clash-point considerations for recruiting and retaining Millennials in these kinds of roles include the following:
  • Meaning: This can be a challenge within some white-collar jobs, especially for more entry-level positions. If, as a young Millennial employee, you’re answering the phone and redirecting calls all day, it can be hard to feel how you connect to the company’s bigger picture. Really take the time to connect the dots for employees whose roles may be distant from your company’s bigger picture.
  • Feedback: A great win within white-collar jobs is that oftentimes there’s a well-established feedback loop within the company’s structure. Millennials, who’ve been groomed from a young age to expect a constant stream of feedback, respond very well to opportunities to get constant commentary on their work, as well as chances to learn from mentors who’ve had more time at your organization and can teach them a thing or two. Constant commentary in these environments is most ideal when it comes from every level within the organization.

More so than in blue-collar positions, the stereotype of “needy” or “entitled” hangs above white-collar Millennials. Those who’ve just arrived already want to fast-track their way to the top or want a face-to-face meeting with the CEO, thinking their ideas are brilliant enough to warrant her time. This may stem from the more lax rules and formality that come with typically white-collar roles, but don’t chalk up Millennials’ eagerness to entitlement. It’s true that if you give them an inch they’ll likely want another, but it doesn’t have to be a negative experience for everyone involved. Tell them where you stand while being open to their ideas.

Going with a blue collar Millennial

Here’s what blue collar means to a Millennial:
  • Both managers and employees feel ignored, that the Millennial topic doesn’t apply to them.
  • Inflexible rules are pretty much the status quo within blue-collar jobs, and for very good reason. Oftentimes, the safety of both employees and clients/consumers is at risk, and staying true to rigid safety and scheduling standards is imperative to accident prevention. Other times, it may seem like change is impossible because every person is preoccupied with following every single rule.
  • Manual labor is, as the phrase suggests, hard work. It can be physically straining on the body, with risk for injury and burnout. Workers must be on their guard the entire shift and are often subjected to elements beyond their control: working floor conditions, weather, and so forth.
  • Within blue-collar roles, time often means money. Employees are compensated on an hourly basis, which means if they aren’t there, they aren’t making money. Compensation increases are incremental at best, and this can be a major challenge in wooing Millennial candidates.
  • Oftentimes, higher education is not necessary for blue-collar roles. This can actually be wielded as a major draw, especially when you consider the generation after Millennials. Gen Edgers saw Millennials become hamstrung by mountains of student debt and are giving a curious eye to careers that don’t necessarily require diplomas and all the financial hardships they entail.
Clash-point considerations for recruiting and retaining Millennials in these jobs are as follows:
  • Organizational structure: Because rigidity and adherence to rules is baked into the way a lot of blue-collar jobs function, it should come as no surprise that the traditional hierarchy has not only stood the test of time, but is almost necessary in this kind of environment.

Because the structure is very much power and influence at the top, trickling down to the bottom (where, typically, the newest employees reside), there’s the chance that some of these Millennials will feel disconnected from leadership and start to see themselves as a peon, a number, a worker with no face and no name. Make an effort to connect lower-level employees with the upper tier of your company. Have managers/owners show up, walk the floor, make contact with the workers, and show not only that they’re accessible but also that they care.

“[I like my hourly employees to know that] I’d rather prepare them for another employer than have them leave because they weren’t happy. [It’s about] understanding what they are looking to get out of the experience, and each person is different.” —Jayson M., Manager

  • Collaboration: Working in a factory setting, focusing on one technical function day in and day out, can be lonely and isolated. Blue-collar managers should really put effort into building a team dynamic that encourages collaboration among workers. That may be through team-building opportunities offsite, resources for them to have a book club on their breaks, or meetings that encourage employees to speak up, come together, and share best practices.

Opening up these moments for collaboration may seem like catering to Millennials, but they can instead be a retention tool that shows individual workers how their job impacts everyone and how their influence can promote working together to improve and streamline operations. You may be surprised by what emerges through encouraged collaboration.

Let’s get real — the inflexibility of working hours is going to be your absolute biggest challenge when it comes to recruiting and retaining Millennials. Around the globe, Millennials cite flexibility and work-life balance as a top concern, and they’re cautious about joining an industry where this isn’t even a possibility.

Rather than trying to diminish this fact, own it, and focus on what you can offer. Your hours may not be flexible and there may be no working from home, but there are tangible results of your efforts and the ability to leave work at work (none of that after-hours stuff). You can also market your culture and an environment that is really committed to their employees’ well-being. This is a more powerful tool than you may realize.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Hannah L. Ubl is the Research Director at BridgeWorks and transforms data into stories for the masses. Lisa X. Walden is the Communications Director at BridgeWorks where she delivers compelling, breakthrough generational content. Debra Arbit is CEO of BridgeWorks: a generational consulting company (

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