Why You Should Develop a Rewards and Recognition Program for Your Blue-Collar Employees

“Everyone wants to be appreciated, so if you appreciate someone, don’t keep it a secret.” — Mary Kay Ash

Every company in the market is chasing after the same thing: success.

Achieving success as a company can mean different things. For some, success means massive growth. For others, it means rising profit margins. For others, it’s about sustainability and standing the test of time.

Whatever the definition is for your company, your success depends on your workers. It is their output that keeps the lights on and the trucks on the road. Companies know this, and that’s why they often put employee rewards programs in place.

Not all employees get rewarded the same, though — or at all. Across the white-collar and blue-collar divide, rewards often focus on the former. Most companies reward their management teams. Many forget or misunderstand how to reward their blue-collar workers.

Let’s review the reasons for this and the benefits of rewarding blue-collar employees. We’ll also discuss reward programs and engagement strategies for blue-collar workers.

The Blue-Collar and White-Collar Divide

Today, we define “blue-collar” jobs as roles that focus on hands-on work. That includes skilled manufacturing jobs, manual labor, custodial duties, and such. White-collar jobs are typically defined as administrative roles, office jobs, accounting, sales roles, and management teams and the like.


The term “blue-collar” dates back to the 1920s. 1920s trade workers preferred hearty denim shirts. The trademark blue denim gave blue-collar workers their name. This contrasted with the white collars of office workers and professionals, i.e. “white-collar” workers.

The divide quickly gained socioeconomic implications. There was implicit tension between blue-collar and white-collar workers, who had different priorities. Politicians pandered to both with often divisive legislation.


Tensions between blue-collar and white-collar workers only grew through the 20th century. Trade unions faced off against management in epic standoffs. As labor costs increased in the first world, companies exported blue-collar jobs overseas.

This process, called deindustrialization, affected major blue-collar cities in the 20th century. The shifting economic panorama led to cultural rejection of blue-collar jobs. Young people saw them as outdated career choices, flocking to college instead.

What’s Happening Now

After reaching peak membership in the 70s, unions steadily lost power and influence. The next decades would flip the script, though. The tech revolution created great demand for well-paying skilled blue-collar jobs.

At the same time, slow growth of white-collar wages erased previous socioeconomic distinctions. Many companies now see both white-collar and blue-collar workers as crucial elements of a business’s success.

4 Benefits of Rewarding Blue-Collar Employees

Businesses stand to gain significantly from rewarding their blue-collar employees. Rewards programs let companies promote improved worker performance.

Blue-collar workers are no exception. Here are some of the benefits of rewarding your blue-collar employees.

1. An Increase in Motivation

Blue-collar workers need motivation too! Reward programs help employees feel the company values their efforts. This in turns inspires even better performance.

Motivated employees display lower levels of absenteeism and lower staff turnover. A motivated workforce also improves company relationships with trade unions.

2. Improved Productivity

Reward and recognition programs help increase employee productivity and make employees feel like management values their skills. This, in turn, makes employees redouble their dedication.

We all work harder when there’s a promise of a reward. Blue-collar employees working harder means increased output, revenues, and profits.

3. Higher Quality Work

Reward programs for blue-collar workers can also impact the quality of their work. Companies that appreciate their blue-collar workers are telling them their work matters.

Employees that know their work matters put more effort into producing quality work. High-quality work means improved efficiency, less waste, and higher profits for your organization.

4. Employee Retention

Perhaps most importantly, a reward program helps retain skilled blue-collar workers. These jobs are becoming increasingly difficult to fill around the world, and the need for employee retention has risen extensively in the last decade.

Maintaining high retention levels among your best and most experienced workers is crucial. And blue-collar employees that feel appreciated are much likelier to stay.

Rewards and Recognition for Blue-Collar Employees

If you want to reward blue-collar workers, you need to know the kinds of rewards available. The following are some ways to reward blue-collar employees for their performance.

Tangible Rewards

Tangible rewards are anything you can put your hands on. White-collar workers often prefer more abstract rewards, like flexible scheduling and opportunities for career growth. Blue-collar workers often appreciate tangible rewards they can use every day.

Examples of tangible rewards include gift cards, company-branded t-shirts, cookware, and tools. What specific type of reward employees want is dependent on the industry in which they work. Some workers will love custom, high-quality safety gear, tools to use on the job, or gifts from their favorite local spots.

Monetary Rewards

Monetary rewards are among the most straightforward demonstrations of appreciation. They are also popular with blue-collar workers who are traditionally paid less than office employees.

These rewards come in the form of performance-based bonuses or a formal rewards program where employees are given points for a job well done. This is not the only kind of monetary reward available, though.

Company picnics, trips, and gift cards are all forms of monetary rewards. Every industry has its own preferences, so it’s important you talk to your workers directly. Ask what types of monetary rewards they’d be most interested in and do your best to secure them. Even better: use a rewards and recognition platform to secure the rewards for you so you can focus on more important tasks.

Experiential Rewards

Blue-collar workers in some industries value experience-based rewards. This is especially true for millennials, who make up about half the workforce today.

For example, a worker may represent the company at a high-end conference where they can also meet their industry peers. They could also be invited to a prestigious luncheon with executives as a reward for outstanding work. Even an extra PTO day to spend with family is a great experiential reward to offer your blue collar workers.

Public Recognition

Verbal recognition is well known in the white-collar world. Praise from management and supervisors is always welcome, and many white-collar employers have recognition programs in place to ensure employees are recognized often. Blue-collar workers tend to value the opinion of their peers more than management, and this is important to note in case you are looking to implement a formal program.

Companies rewarding blue-collar workers should create systems that promote peer-to-peer recognition. Team exercises where top performance is publicly recognized and praised can be powerful.

Alternative Rewards

Even still, other forms of rewards may be of interest to your workers. Listening to your workforce is vital to determine what rewards they value the most.

In some industries, it may be new equipment, infrastructure, or machinery. In others, it may be company holiday trips to Disneyland. Speaking to your workers is key to successful rewards for blue-collar employees.

Time to Take Action

As blue-collar workers become increasingly important and rare, rewarding your employees is vital. Skilled labor is a tough market to recruit in, and you can’t afford to lose your talent.

Understanding the unique frustrations and desires of your blue-collar workforce is the first step. After knowing what they want, companies can begin to adapt. A rewards and recognition program is the best way for companies to show that they value their workers.

There are numerous possible ways to reward blue-collar workers. Some workers will prefer straightforward rewards and others will value symbolic recognition or personalized gifts. Every industry and company has a unique workforce, and rewards should be tailored as such.

Know what your workers cherish, let them take pride in their work, and reward them in their terms. Follow these steps and your company will be on its way to rising blue-collar retention rates.

Sophie Parker blogs over at Surehand, where industrial safety professionals can find their perfect job. It is her aim to help create a safer world, one inspector at a time.