sealPurdue News


September 1995

Despite their collars, factory workers aren't all blue

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- The typical blue-collar worker in America is smarter and less bored than our popular culture might have us believe, says a Purdue University labor expert.

In fact, today's factory workers make significant contributions to their organizations, are quite interested in their work and lead full lives outside the factory walls, says Joan M. Chesterton, associate professor of organizational leadership and supervision at Purdue's North Central campus.

"Too many years of reading -- from Frederick Taylor to 'Rivethead' -- had convinced me that all factory workers live lives of not-so-quiet desperation," she says. "Through my work in team building, I've found that many of them are highly creative individuals who like what they are doing and are the very heart and soul of their organizations. As team members, hourly employees are being asked to become active participants at many levels within the organization and to depend less on management to make all the decisions. They are in the midst of what appears to be a second Industrial Revolution, with little precedent to guide them or their leaders."

The revolution Chesterton speaks of is the implementation of work teams in production-oriented organizations. She is studying the effects of such teams and says more and more companies are taking this approach. Research shows that employees are more productive and produce a higher-quality product working as a team, she says.

Chesterton has 20 years of experience as a line manager and consultant for manufacturing and service organizations involved in re-engineering, employee empowerment and improving relationships between management and unions. She has developed and conducted more than 75 management and organizational training programs in the United States and two in Eastern Europe.

Her experiences have convinced her that some commonly held assumptions about blue-collar workers may not be completely true in today's industrial environment. These are excerpts from a larger article, "Team Building With Hourly Workers: An Experience of Discovery," which appears in the Sept./Oct. issue of the American Management Association's Management Review.

Source: Joan M. Chesterton, (219) 785-5297; home, (219) 874-0038

Writer: Victor B. Herr, (765) 494-2077; Internet,

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