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Some Thoughts on Recognition for Blue-Collar Workers...

Recognition. We've been trained to believe that everyone needs it.

Do they?

I think so, but something that's lost in the recognition/engagement market is that for many blue collar workers, getting recognition in front of their peers actually makes them feel Blue collarlike a dork/brown-noser.

Some notes from my life follow...  My dad, Kent Dunn (RIP CKD), was a lifetime telephone/telecom lineman. One of the greatest things he gave me was a work ethic.  The memory of hearing his boots hit the floor and go out the door while I was still in bed before school are riveted in my mind.  He had a bunch of positive qualities you'd want in anyone you hired from a pride of work prospective.

But one thing he never would have been comfortable with is public recognition.  Here's some things that are widely talked about today related to recognition he wouldn't have been comfortable with, with his likely reaction in parenthesis to whoever was trying to reward him with any form of praise:

  1. Recognition in front of his peers in a team setting (Don't ever do that again)...
  2. Recognition 1/1 from his boss (So what? That's my job. That wasn't special)...
  3. Recognition in a company communication (Nobody reads that stuff)...

Kent Dunn would have been uncomfortable with many of the recognition strategies we take for granted in white-collar America.  I think many blue-collar workers we have today in America are a lot like Kent.  When I think about alternative/best ways to do recognition to those folks (mostly older males in blue-collar jobs focused on making a living, not changing the world), I came up with the following two strategies:

  1.  Rather than recognize in front of the group, tell some of Kent's friends the feedback you got on his work when he's not around. Hearing that the boss was talking about your great work in a casual way among your co-workers is a passive, low impact way for the Kent Dunn's of the world to feel good.  It saves them the public humiliation (in their eyes) of praise, but the message is still delivered.
  2. To make sure the Kent Dunn's of the world hear the praise, share what the customer told you directly with him.  The strategy here is this - you praise Kent in the normal way and it feels like you are expecting to hug him, which repels Kent.  You tell Kent that 81-year old Mrs. Adams praised Kent, he knows you don't expect to hug it out and you talk about how Mrs. Adams is a hoarder and has 30 cats, but she's a nice lady.  Trust me, he heard the work context of the praise. 

In both scenarios, the recognition is still there.  The macho blue-collar worker still hears it, but based on how it's provided he doesn't feel like you expect him to come in contact with his feelings.

Feelings are scary for blue-collar employees, especially those of the male variety.

RIP Kent Dunn.  I still hear your boots.

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