No matter what industry and employee population, we all recognize the need to engage, appreciate, and motivate our workforce. Fortunately, there are plenty of creative solutions to engage employees, encourage both peer and management recognition, and deliver rewards. Not all recognition occurs in offices or startups, either. Construction, mining, manufacturing, and energy are a few industries with similar limitations around employee appreciation.
These limitations are mainly tied to logistics and demographics. If you are an HR professional or line manager in one of these industries, you may think that technology-based employee appreciation solutions are not a fit for your company. However, you might be surprised by how effectively you can leverage the right technology to increase engagement, boost morale, and improve productivity.
In a previous article, we identified a number of creative ways to recognize employees. However, not all rewards make the most sense for all employee populations. Research shows that blue collar and white-collar employees value certain aspects of their employment differently.
For example, white-collar employees mainly gain job satisfaction from the nature of their work, a sense of achievement, and a feeling of being appreciated. Blue-collar workers are more motivated by salary, peer relations, working conditions, and job security. Both white collar and blue-collar employees need to feel appreciated, but understanding what motivates them helps to create the best possible, most relevant, and well-received rewards.
Traditionally, blue-collar employees have received many types of rewards that are physically tangible; things they can have physically handed to them, like gift baskets and company-branded gear. Many team members enjoy engraved tools and embroidered safety vests. Handwritten notes and gift cards are also very popular.
Trophies can be a fun reward that sparks conversation and participation. For example, one manufacturing company I supported had a golden safety award trophy and the “broom of doom.” The trophy went to the department with the best safety audit score, and the broom of doom (a regular broom that was painted black) went to the department with the worst safety audit score. The employees in the winning department got their photo taken with the trophy, and the losing department had to display the broom of doom until the next audit.
Raises, as well as safety and performance bonuses, are the main traditional monetary rewards issued to blue-collar employees. Other monetary-related awards include paid lunches, floating holidays, gift cards to their favorite store or restaurant, and company store voucher. Poll your team to understand what they will appreciate most.
Blue-collar employees also enjoy the rewards they can experience. Rewards such as having lunch with the CEO, or attending a company-sponsored event, are usually very well received. Some companies even offer fully or partly-paid vacations as prizes for their top performers. Construction company David Weekley Homes offers their employees a 4-week paid sabbatical to employees who have worked for the company at least 10 years.
Workers may also get the opportunity to attend special training to further their careers. I organized an off-site supervisor training for a mining company I supported, and the team leads who attended the event loved it. They really enjoyed getting away from the worksite for a day, bonding as a team, getting special attention from the GM and learning the skills they needed to get promoted to Supervisor.
Then there is the age-old reward of praise. Verbally acknowledging someone’s accomplishments makes them feel appreciated because you have taken the time to single them out in a positive way. It shows that you know them and their specific contributions. Praise may come from line managers, executives, or peers. Since blue-collar workers tend to care more about their relationships with their coworkers than with their supervisors, facilitating a culture of peer-to-peer recognition makes the most sense.
Typical Hurdles to Leveraging Technology
Most HR professionals and line managers who work at the site or plant level understand that there are some very real hurdles to overcome when introducing new technology to their teams. By addressing these hurdles, we can engage and appreciate our blue-collar cohorts.
Employees who don’t primarily sit in front of a laptop might find it difficult to adopt a computer and internet-based solution. Online employee recognition platforms rely on internet connectivity and access to a computer, tablet, or smartphone. Blue-collar workers who have not been required to use email for work and are not used to standard digital user interfaces will need help getting ramped up. Many blue-collar employees do not even have email accounts because they have never needed one.
Training, Orientation, and Setup
Like me, many of my HR colleagues have personally helped blue-collar employees create email accounts and download apps to their phones. They have trained the workforce on how to enroll in benefits online from their smartphones with increasing success. While it takes extra time, special attention, and care, training employees on these solutions pays off in the long run. Ultimately, they are able to enjoy more benefits and programs at the facility level due to the built-in cost savings (e.g. fewer support staff needed to administer the programs, fewer supplies needed, etc.).
New hire orientation is a great opportunity to give a complete overview of how an employee appreciation program works. Weekly safety meetings and quarterly department meetings are also key points where you could make a brief appearance to remind employees about rewards programs and training resources.
Preferred Communication Vehicles
Many blue-collar workers prefer SMS notifications and paper mail to email. They may also prefer phone calls and face-to-face interactions to email. Pretty much anything but email!
This is partly to do with the graying blue-collar workforce, but it is also a result of these employees not being exposed to regular digital communication. Literacy and language barriers can also play a role in email aversion. Before implementing a program, be sure to identify challenges to adoption and have a plan to overcome them as a team.
Where and How the Work is Performed
Most blue-collar work is performed in the field, at a plant, or on a warehouse floor. Cell signal and internet service may be weak or nonexistent, depending on the location. Additionally, employees operating machinery or heavy equipment are not permitted to access their phones outside of lunch breaks. Even if mobile devices are permitted, they can be lost, broken or stolen if taken out or left out while performing manual labor. Identify the constraints in which your recognition program will operate, and plan around them.
Technology to Engage Your Workforce
Despite the aforementioned barriers to technology use, there are several highly effective ways to leverage technology for blue-collar employees.
Mobile Apps and SMS
While blue-collar employees may dislike or struggle with email use, almost all of them have and regularly use cell phones. According to the Pew Research Center, in 2018, 95% of adults living in the US own some kind of cellphone. And 77% of adults living in the US own smartphones, with an even higher percentage of smartphone ownership in the working population.
SMS notifications and push notifications are two ways you can reach your entire workforce by sending alerts, reminders and announcements to their phones. SMS notifications allow employees to reply and do not require employees to download an app. SMS can also be sent to phones that are not smartphones, while push notifications require the internet to work properly. Both options allow you to customize your employee appreciation content. With either solution, you can share anniversary, birthday and promotion announcements. One drawback of these types of communication is that they are either one way or two way, but they do not allow for group participation or peer-to-peer recognition.
Mobile employee appreciation programs have the major benefit of working well on a number of devices in flexible ways. For employees who do not have cell phones, they can use a company-provided computer kiosk to recognize their peers and access their rewards. Many applications are offered in a number of languages to accommodate non-English-speaking employees.
Mobile applications can be used to stream reward announcements on TV monitors in break rooms, or they can be downloaded directly to employees’ smartphones. With so many great options, you are sure to be able to design the best employee recognition program for your amazing team!
Many manufacturing companies leverage computer kiosks to provide employees a free resource to participate in company-sponsored programs. They are used for safety training, ordering uniforms, and, of course, employee appreciation.
One popular way to share the news with blue-collar workers is through displaying important announcements on TV monitors in the break rooms. These break room monitors are attention-grabbing without being distracting. This reduces safety and productivity concerns around technology use. The monitors can be hooked up to devices that contain the announcement materials.
Custom employee appreciation announcements can easily be made by the on-site administrative, HR or IT professional using PowerPoint or Google Slides. The company’s marketing team could provide the template so that the presentation is branded correctly and look sharp. Alternatively, support staff could share recorded video announcements streamed from the company’s YouTube account. Video interviews with individual employees can highlight their contributions and create a sense of belonging.
Programmable message boards are often used at outdoor worksites because they are highly portable and weather resistant. They are also easy to program, and line managers or foremen can update the messages themselves as frequently as they’d like. These are very eye-catching and are great for shoutouts and announcements.
Introducing employee appreciation solutions have been proven to help improve engagement, reduce turnover, and increase productivity. Even workplaces that don’t revolve around always-connected internet communication can take advantage of their benefits, and introducing these programs your organization doesn’t have to be a hassle. Think about how your own organization can take advantage of employee appreciation.