White collar, blue collar

Gabrielle Lis

Are you a RTW professional daunted by the prospect of working with a predominantly blue collar workforce? You're not alone. Here are ten tried and tested tips for building rapport.

Be aware that there may be a real and/or perceived divide between “the management team” and the “frontline blue collar workers”. Walk into this situation with your eyes open, and you’re much less likely to be tripped up by potential obstacles.


Don’t let the status quo stand. If there is an “us and them” mentality, you’re immediately on the back foot, having to defend yourself and the processes you need the worker to engage with. You need to be able to devote your energies to supporting the worker, rather than getting stuck justifying yourself and your organisation’s injury management programs.


Make the establishment of trust and rapport a number one priority; this enables workers to approach you with their concerns before they are sick or injured. Also, the rehab process may last for 12 months, meaning that you’ll be in regular contact with an ill or injured worker over this period. A good relationship is important, for you and for them.


Get amongst it. RTWMatters has spoken to RTW professionals who spend 50% of their time in the office, and 50% of their time out on the floor with workers. When you build a relationship and friendship on the floor, it carries over into the rehab context. Not only that, workers will know who you are, and what your role is, and therefore be more likely to approach you when the situation calls for it.


Be seen getting your hands dirty. If you’re managing people who undertake manual labour, spend some of your time actually doing what they do. This is one of the best ways to build mutual respect.


Mind your language. You shouldn’t talk down to workers—but this doesn’t mean that you should bombard them with industry jargon. Avoid telling workers what to do, and instead ask questions. For example, “Sounds like lifting is off limits for a while. You’ve been here a while, what do you think you could do in the meantime?” might be a good way to get the worker onside with modified duties.


Have a joke, be a larrikin. Nothing builds rapport like a shared sense of humour. If you like a laugh, then share this with the people you’re working with.


Laughter builds rapport, but consistency is necessary to maintain trust. Be upfront and honest. Respond to questions in a timely manner—i.e. quickly. Communicate clearly about any changes to the injury management system.

Sometimes workers expect too much from you. You both might be disappointed: you’re not meeting their expectations, and they’re not meeting yours. When this happens, you need to have a case meeting and talk openly about the situation. Be clear about what you expect, and what you can provide, and ask them to do the same. That way, you both avoid disappointment.


Listen. This is particularly important when you’re dealing with workers who are already disgruntled with the injury management process. Asking questions about why the worker feels the way they do, and clearly explain your own role. Then you’re in a position to offer the support the worker needs, which might include sitting in on medical appointments and explaining things.


Stick at it. When a worker is anti-company, anti-rehab or anti-you as a person, you should persevere, explaining your role and showing them that you’re there to help them.

Published 18 December, 2010 | Updated 05 February, 2013