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Creating a better work-life balance for blue collar workers

The number of blue-collar jobs is surging in the US due in part to massive new public infrastructure projects. Yet employers in these industries are having trouble attracting the people they need, as well as keeping them. 

Jason Lamonica

Jason Lamonica

COO of Spec on the Job

blue collar workers

Part of the problem is that blue-collar labor often entails long hours and physical demands. In my experience, however, blue-collar employers can make a few key changes that empower their employees to balance their work with their personal lives, which leads to improved job satisfaction and retention rates.

The Surge in demand for blue-collar workers

Let’s start with the good news: blue-collar businesses and their workers are in greater demand than ever before.

Due to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, our nation has invested in major infrastructure projects that develop everything from new roads, bridges, and railways to whole airport terminals and ports.

These transformational undertakings have created a historically high number of new jobs in blue-collar industries like construction, manufacturing, and transportation.

As the White House explains, “The economy has added 670,000 jobs in construction since… January 2021—an average of 20,000 jobs per month… Employment in the construction sector has exceeded the pre-Great Recession high for the first time, with [October 2023] setting a new record high going back to the start of the data in 1939.”

The upshot is that there’s a lot of opportunity in the blue-collar sector today. 

Now for the bad news: despite offering good jobs with high wages, many employers are still struggling to find the talent they need. Even if they do manage to find and recruit new workers, they can have difficulty keeping them.

Why? In my experience, many companies in the blue-collar sector continue to enforce policies that might have worked when a single income was enough to support a family, but these policies no longer meet the needs of today’s workers.

Today’s employees prioritize work-life balance

Society has changed, while many blue-collar businesses have not. Today’s employees — no matter their gender, race, or background — prioritize their ability to balance work with their personal lives.

According to a recently released study by Randstad, the world’s largest employment agency, workers rated being able to strike a healthy work-life balance as just as important as pay. Roughly 57% of respondents said they would not take a job that would negatively impact their work-life balance, such as one that doesn’t offer flexible scheduling.

Indeed, flexibility has become a major priority for employees of all kinds, including those in blue-collar jobs. Another Randstad study from 2023 found that 42% of blue-collar employees consider flexibility to be more important than their salary.

A high rate of respondents — almost two out of five — reported that they wouldn’t have any trouble doing their jobs and completing their tasks on a flexible schedule, but also said that their employers were resisting this possibility.

A surprising number of participants — 30% — even said they had quit a previous job because of the lack of flexibility it had afforded them.

Flexible scheduling initiatives can help blue-collar businesses improve their employees’ work-life harmony and retain their valuable team members.

How blue-collar businesses can offer flexibility

Just because something has always been done a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the best way to do it.

Even blue-collar businesses that cherish a long tradition of working in a certain way can adjust their processes and procedures to support employees’ well-being.

Even blue-collar businesses that cherish a long tradition of working in a certain way can adjust their processes and procedures to support employees’ well-being.

So, what kind of flexible scheduling can blue-collar employers consider?

First of all, if two workers want to trade shifts, employers could create procedures that enable them to do this as quickly and easily as possible. Is it really necessary for them to gain manager approval, for instance?

As long as the two shifts are being covered, the work is getting done, and everyone understands what’s going on, requiring paperwork and approval may just add unnecessary tasks to people’s plates.

It may also be possible to offer shifts of variable lengths so that employees might work longer on one day and take off earlier on another.

It might not matter if one person works 10 hours on Wednesdays and takes off two hours early on Thursdays, especially if another team member works two hours less on Wednesdays and two hours more on Thursdays.

As long as the teams are fully staffed as needed to accomplish the work on time, different workers’ hours could be combined like puzzle pieces in order to meet individuals’ needs and preferences.

This flexibility would be invaluable for parents who need to pick kids up from soccer practice on a certain day every week. Workers who don’t have caretaking responsibilities would also likely appreciate this option since it could enable them to spend time doing the hobbies and activities they enjoy during the regular work week.

For some roles, employers might be able to offer flexibility about the exact time employees begin and end work each day.

If the employee can work independently, there is usually less need for them to report for duty according to a rigid, unchangeable schedule.

Even employees who are necessary for group tasks may be able to find ways to shuffle the workaround to accommodate someone who needs to leave the site at a certain time.

Remember that, as a business leader or manager, you don’t need to come up with all the solutions on your own — just ask your team members how policies might be able to become more flexible without undue disruption to the project. They will probably be able to give you a lot of ideas.

Flexibility equals employee productivity and loyalty

The current state of the job market opens up the possibility of revising company policies and improving employees’ well-being.

Studies show that when employees feel happier about their jobs, they are more productive and loyal to their employers. 

For these reasons alone, blue-collar businesses should take a hard look at their policies and consider the possibility of change.

— Jason Lamonica, COO of Spec on the Job, brings more than 15 years of experience to blue-collar staffing and leadership. He ensures stability and growth for these service lines with a focus on operational excellence within three key areas: evidence-based best practice programs, well-trained and appropriate staffing of people, and developing key partnerships with clients.

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