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For other uses, see White collar .

The term white-collar worker refers to a salaried professional or an educated worker who performs semi-professional office, administrative, and sales coordination tasks, as opposed to a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor. "White-collar work" is an informal term, defined in contrast to "blue-collar work".

History

Origin of the term

The term "white collar" was first used by Upton Sinclair, an American writer, in relation to modern clerical, administrative and management workers during the 1930s. Sinclair's usage is related to the fact that during most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, male office workers in European and America countries almost always had to wear white, collared dress shirts.

Demographics

Formerly a minority in the agrarian and early industrial societies, white-collar workers have become a majority in industrialized countries. Industrial and occupational change during the twentieth century created disproportionately more desk jobs, and reduced the number of employees doing manual work in factories.

In recent times workers have had varying degrees of latitude about their choice of dress. Dress codes can range from relaxed — with employees allowed to wear jeans and street clothes — up to traditional office attire. Many companies today operate in a business-casual environment where employees are required to wear dress pants (business trousers) or skirts and a shirt with a collar. Because of this, not all of what would be called white-collar workers in fact wear the traditional white shirt and tie.

As an example of workspace contrast, the higher-ranking executives may have large corner offices with impressive views and expensive furnishings, whereas the lesser-ranked desk clerks may share small, windowless cubicles with plain utilitarian furniture. As an example of the differing responsibilities, the higher-ranked worker will usually have a more broad and fundamental responsibility in the company whereas the subordinates will be delegated more specific, and limited tasks. The cases of differing privilege and salary speak for themselves.

At some companies, the "white-collar employees" also on occasion perform "blue-collar" tasks (or vice versa), and even change their clothing to perform the distinctive roles (i.e., dressing up or dressing down as the case requires). This is common in the food-service industry. An example would be a restaurant manager who may wear more formal clothing than lower-ranked employees, yet still sometimes assist with cooking food or taking customers' orders. Employees of event-catering companies often wear formal clothing when serving food.

As salaried employees, white-collar workers are sometimes members of white-collar labor unions and they can resort to strike action to settle grievances with their employers when collective bargaining fails. This is far more the case in Europe than in the United Statesmarker, where less than ten percent of all private sector employees are union members. White-collar workers have a reputation for being skeptical or opposed to unions, and tend to see their advancement in work as tied to their reaching corporate goals rather than in union membership.

C. Wright Mills, an American sociologist, conducted a major research study of the white-collar workers which was reported in his book, White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951). He claimed that alienation among the white-collar workers was high because they were not only selling their time but also had to sell their personality with a "smile on their faces", referring to insurance-sales people like his own father.

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