Chad Prinsloo | Web Designer

Tiaan Dwyer  |  HR Specialist

October 24 2021

Plenty has been said about employee engagement within the white-collar segment but surprisingly, I have found fewer talks about improving engagement among blue-collar employees. This deserves equal (if not more) attention in my view as this segment of the workforce forms the backbone for the future success of many companies in South Africa. Moreover, it is this segment that has to regularly brave harsh and dangerous working conditions to ensure business continuity and success.

Blue-collar workers in South Africa are mainly unskilled or semi-skilled workers that perform work of a manual nature (Lee & Mohamed 2006) and are employed mostly in the mining, construction, electrical, transport and security industries.

We all know that engaged employees exhibit higher productivity, create better retention rates, have greater attention to detail, deliver better customer service, and more creativity. Companies recognise this. After all, employee engagement impacts every aspect of a business and can boost profitability substantially. So, many companies found ways of improving employee engagement even during the pandemic. From setting up team meetings and training sessions by video conferencing to virtual themed parties, yoga, karaoke sessions, and fun quizzes were organised. The internet is flooded with ideas.

Blue-collar employees have different challenges and it is also important for them to feel part of the company. So, let’s take a step further than simply ensuring they wear masks and take a renewed look at blue-collar workforce engagement.

Make Them Feel Appreciated

This does not require huge budget approvals or even a great deal of effort. If you have effective communication channels already in place, even little things can make a big difference in making blue-collar workers feel valued such as:

  • Implementing proper onboarding practices to make blue-collar employees feel noticeable and also highlight the role they play in making the company a success.
  • Provide them with a welcome pack containing company merchandise.
  • After a hard month or after a big project send them a Thank You message on WhatsApp or in person on behalf of the company. This will mean more if it comes from senior management.
  • Sending out reminders and providing tips on how to keep health and safety standards high in their workspace can be an expression that you care about their well-being.
  • Provide clarity on their roles and tasks. Most blue-collar workers feel much lower anxiety when they have clearly defined tasks and know what is expected of them.

Build Trust between all members of the company

Employees who have high trust in the company feel less stress; have a lower burnout rate and a higher retention rate. Do the following to increase trust by:

  • Paying wages on time and being transparent in payment calculations can build trust and confidence among blue collar employees.
  • Provide prompt responses to queries related to work schedules, shifts, overtime and benefits.
  • Be transparent and consistent in marking attendance and recording leaves.
  • Using tools like attendance tracking, payroll management can provide greater peace of mind and improve the contribution and productivity of your blue-collar workforce.

Improve Wellness

Health and wellness have become even more critical after the outbreak of the pandemic in March 2020. Thanks to better internet connectivity across the country, companies can identify channels to ensure continuous monitoring of employees and for blue-collar workers to indicate the status of their health.

  • Consider ways for blue collar employees to quickly and easily update their status, which may include covid-19 positive / negative, temperature readings, symptoms, vaccination status, quarantine status, hospitalisation.
  • Set up a process to take action quickly if someone has symptoms or tests positive.
  • Set up alerts if an employee needs urgent attention.
  • Improve communication and provide support.
  • Get insurance that covers the cost of covid-19 treatment.

Companies can conduct vaccination drives for their frontline staff and give paid leave on the day of the vaccine shot. Taking prompt action can help employees receive medical attention faster and prevent infection from spreading to other team members. Investing in the health of your frontline staff bodes well for business continuity and increased output.

Also, recognise that the work done by blue-collar employees can become monotonous and often come with harsh work conditions and odd working hours. This segment of your workforce is more prone to health problems, both mental and physical so implement the following solutions:

  • Train their supervisors to have empathy towards blue collar workers.
  • Organise pre-emptive medical check-ups.
  • Offer insurance cover if employees are not already covered.
  • Offer virtual doctor on call facility.

Taking care of the mental and physical well-being of your blue-collar workforce can help reduce absenteeism and improve productivity.

Improve Financial Well-Being

Your blue collar employees work for lower wages and are often stressed about their financials.

  • Ensure that the company is contributing to UIF and paying them a decent wage.
  • Track overtime work and ensure appropriate compensation is provided.

Providing financial security can build loyalty and trust among the blue collar workers.

Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Most employees care deeply about how they are perceived by their co-workers. It’s important to them that their achievements are celebrated by their peers. Streamlined employee rewards programs help establish a culture of positivity and growth.


Investing in training and imparting additional skills to your frontline staff can spell huge benefits for companies in terms of improved productivity and better customer service. Companies can train their blue-collar workforce to improve their soft skills, especially when interacting with customers, and use the latest technologies to perform their tasks better.

Upskilling not only fosters a sense of belonging, it can also improve worker prospects, allowing them to earn higher wages and increase employee engagement, loyalty, and retention. Using technology, companies can provide upskilling opportunities to their blue collar employees, enabling them to learn at their own pace. Also, companies can also consider incentivising training to keep employees more engaged.

The business world is waking up to the many advantages of engaging and retaining blue-collar employees. The fundamentals mentioned in this article are just the tip of the iceberg and there are many more ideas to implement that can be hugely beneficial for your business.

If there is something I want you to know about me right away, it’s that I have a passion for supporting business owners. I believe in the future of South Africa and that there are so many opportunities out there to be successful and to make a change to our economy.

I want to be part of that change by providing businesses with core HR and Labour Solutions that will not only result in legislative compliance but actually positively impact their bottom line.

Over the years I have gained practical HR experience working in various sectors such as mining, construction, financial services, and corporate legal. As a business owner myself, I can relate well to businesses and what their needs are.

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