For white-collar workers, transition to blue-collar jobs can be painful


March 02, 1992|By Gerald Graham | Gerald Graham,Knight-Ridder News Service

"They told me, 'We don't want you here. You don't belong, and we are going to do all that we can to make you see it our way,' " Steve reported to his manager.

Steve is an engineer who recently took a job in a factory rather than be laid off.

It was not a smooth change. "When I had that accident with the fork lift last week, I saw that some of the factory guys were standing around laughing," Steve said.

"One of them said, 'We told you that you would not want to stay around here for long.' I think they sabotaged the equipment."

Employers are offering their white-collar professionals, like Steve, options of taking lower-skilled positions as an alternative to being laid off.

However, career employees often see the professional as an interloper. The clash can be even more severe when workers are unionized, because the relocated employee seldom joins union ranks.

Relocated white-collar workers are reporting ostracism, verbal abuse, intimidation and even physical harassment.

One female former office worker was often "fondled" by a male in front of other workers. However, none of the witnesses would confirm the incidents.

Management can ease the transition of former white-collar workers to blue-collar jobs in the following ways:

* Sensitivity.

First, management should be aware of and sensitive to the potential problems of relocation. Supervisors can encourage employees to help the new person, and the supervisor can intervene early at any hint of ostracism or abuse.

* Reporting.

It should be easy for employees to report incidents anonymously. All reports should be investigated by someone from outside the department.

* Policy.

Management should communicate that its policy is to discipline individuals who abuse relocated workers.

Though the problems of relocated white-collar workers may not cover a large percentage of the work force, the impact can create serious problems for management.

Warning signs

Signs of trouble after a white-collar worker is transferred to a blue-collar job.

1. Negative remarks from blue-collar workers.

2. Observed ostracism.

3. Unexplained resignations.

4. Unusual accidents.

5. Complaints of verbal abuse.

6. Complaints of intimidation.

7. Complaints of sexual harassment.

8. An increase in unexplained absenteeism.

9. Anonymous reports of hostile acts.

10. Increased, unusual mistakes.

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