A Lesson from Project and People Management
Authored by Mike Kimel
I straddle a couple of economic worlds. In my day job, I run the Pricing and Market Analytics group for a foreign manufacturing company. But I also retain at least an ear to the ground in a small business my wife and I started about seven years ago. We buy, fix up, and rent out residential properties in Northeast Ohio. My wife runs day-to-day operations. In the past few years, we’ve also taken on a long time family friend as business partner. Like my wife, he has a lot more daily involvement than I do, though like me, he has a white-collar job.
The juxtaposition between the three of us got me thinking about the difference between what my wife does and what I do at my job. To a large extent, I manage people and projects. My wife does the same thing. But if I have scheduled someone to do X, I don’t have to worry about whether they will show up falling-down drunk, or even whether they will show up at all. In two decades of work, those issues have never come up. My wife, on the other hand, deals with that kind of thing regularly. Not with every plumber or perth electricians or construction worker, mind you, but it happens a lot.
None of this is to say that Blue Collar work is worse than White Collar work, but my experience is that more Blue Collar people would trade places with White Collar workers than vice versa, all else being equal. However, where people end up in life owes a lot to luck, ambition, desire, willingness to work and presentation. The inability to keep one’s vices in check, however, can and often will negate everything else, and there are a lot people who have demons they cannot control.
One more observation. People who get fired from a work site because they are drugged or inebriated enough to threaten themselves or others can get belligerent. The boss who fired them, even if it comes after the second or third “second chance” is always, to them, an expletive.
There are an awful lot of white collar jobs where you can show up drunk or stoned and odds are no one will notice. If you really can’t sober up enough, you can always take a sick day or say you are working from home. A lot of blue collar workers don’t have this luxury. If you show up for a plumbing or roofing job drunk or stoned, odds are someone is going to notice really quickly and get you off the site before you hurt yourself or someone else. Not showing up is less of an option for blue collar workers who tend not to get paid if they don’t show up.
Of course, there’s also the whole social code which has white collar workers buying in to their jobs in a way that blue collar workers do not. White collar workers tend to think of their job as part of their career or profession. Blue collar workers tend to think of it as a source of income. White collar workers are more likely to identify with their boss. Blue collar workers have a more realistic view of the power relationship.
Secret for white collar workers whose 3AM closing time got too close to their 8AM meeting? Show up, grab some coffee and pretend like you are listening. Unless you are actually presenting or leading people will mostly just be glad to have that much more air time to express their own views. You can also get away with a lot by pulling up a spreadsheet on your PC and ‘concentrating’ A practically universal excuse is “I am working on a report” or sometimes better “working on THE report”. At least until you get called for a progress report.
Flipping it around I knew a bunch of roofers and drywall installers and tapers and those two specific trades are famous for drinking on the job. Unless you are so drunk you are actually falling off the roof or puking in your taping mud bucket it is generally possible to maintain focus on the job at hand. Now finish carpentry or plumbing is something else, not a good idea to let drunk people get close to power saws and welding gear.
I started my work life in the 70s. And EVERYONE had beers or drinks at lunch. Or smoked a joint. If you had mission critical precision work you made an effort to get it done between sobering up by 9:30 and taking off for lunch at 11:45, but most jobs just are not like that 8 hours a day 5 days a week. It is just that somehow neo-prohibitionism crept back into the workforce during the 90s sometime and it became ‘Zero Tolerance’ for everyone no matter what your task was.
At 19 I worked with tuckpointers on the United of America building on Wacker Drive in Chicago. We were caulking the joints in the building 40 stories up. When we were on the Wrigley Building at lunch they would go to The Billy Goat (cheez burger, cheez burger, chips no fry) on lower Wacker and drink boilermakers and return back to work. White collar 1975), about 20 of us would go to the Ground Round and watch the fashion show. Or we would get together at Pequods for pizza In Morton Grove. Most of us were Vietnam vets. The seventies and eighties were anything goes. You could say anything to a woman and not worry. If you were good looking, it was accepted.
I used to work as a mover. We had this old old Black driver — somewhere between 50 and 170 — who drank on the job. Every day.
He was a better driver drunk than anyone else sober.
I’m sure there are exceptions, or perhaps it was the 1970s and 1980s, but it isn’t something I’ve seen.
If I spend time planning for contingencies that someone I work with will show up stumbling drunk and unable to work, I may eventually be right, However, the evidence so far is that is that in every place I have worked, it is a low probability event and planning for that contingency is a waste of time and resources. (I”m sure HR in places I’ve worked has dealt with it, but it doesn’t seem to be something that comes up frequently enough to have disrupted the work place, and certainly isn’t something I, as a manager, have been trained to deal with anywhere I’ve worked.) On the flip side, if my wife doesn’t plan for that contingency, the costs will add up very quickly.
Yes, those in the construction trades are not of the same work ethic as those in other jobs. Has little to do with blue vs white collar. As you know, blue collar workers are also those who punch the clock for the white collar boss.
But the construction trades? Independent. Little formal education regarding work ethics as it is a job learned via mentoring. There are few construction workers of the non union membership that have learned their skills through some type of formal education process and that includes the owner of the company.
To be in the construction trades is to be in an era when work was totally defined by the worker and not the boss because the boss and worker are one.
Business sense? Again, little to no formal training, even the rudimentary concept of book keeping.
I will also note that my experience is that within the construction trades is an inability for workers to come together to form a formal company. That is, this industry just seems to be one where many get screwed by their fellow colleagues. That is one partner screwing the other. It’s just seems to be a hazard of the trade. I believe it is the result of an independent streak.
With that, what I find mostly in common is a creative mind. My brother is a finish carpenter and he is very good. I joke that when we built tree forts mine were the more solid, but his just looked better. School, was not for him. Creative people do not conform in general. They are independent. Don’t believe me? Try forming a band.
So, my advice, accept that you are dealing with creative people who can not conform to industrialized and now financialized US social order and take advantage of their creativity. Occasionally you will find one who was able to conform just enough to make you feel like you are dealing with a white collar, formally educated construction professional.
What a lazy, poorly thought out article. I know and have worked with white color workers who show up drunk, hungover, stoned, and even more useless than they are when sober. And have worked with or hired many tradesmen and women who are the hardest working people I have ever met. So an entire premise based on a few personal anecdotes is worthless analysis. From somebody claiming to be this bigshot analyst. The mind sort of reels at that.
Greg first time commenters go to moderation. Sorry about that. And I got a late start (its Saturday). Future comments will go right through. Even hyper-critical ones. Cheers.
So I took the liberty of using “teh google” and got to an article whose authors sorted through 11 million death certificates to generate a ranking of professions most likely to die of alcoholism. The top 10 looks like this:
2. shoe machine operator
7. construction workers
8. drywall installers
10. concrete finishers
The highest ranking white collar job is advertiser at #16.