What is a White Collar Worker?
A white-collar worker belongs to a class of employees known for earning higher average salaries doing highly skilled work, but not by performing manual labor at their jobs. White-collar workers historically have been the “shirt and tie” set, defined by office jobs and management, and not “getting their hands dirty.”
This class of worker stands in contrast to blue-collar workers, who traditionally wore blue shirts and worked in plants, mills, and factories.
A white collar worker is a person who performs professional, desk, managerial, or administrative work. White-collar work may be performed in an office or other administrative setting.
White-collar workers include job paths related to government, consulting firms, academia, accountancy, business and executive management, management consulting, customer support, market research, finance, human resources, operations research, marketing, information technology, networking, attorneys, medical professionals, architects, research and development and contracting.
Other types of work are those of a grey-collar worker, who has more specialized knowledge than those of a blue-collar worker, whose job requires manual labor and a pink-collar worker, whose labor is related to customer interaction, entertainment, sales, or other service-oriented work. Many occupations blend blue, white and pink (service) industry categorizations.
Understanding White Collar
A white-collar worker is an office worker, especially an educated or respected one. White collar works include (but are not limited to) clerical employees, salespersons, retail managers, bankers and so forth. White collar workers are usually salaried (though many others work primarily on commission). White collar workers contrast with blue collar workers, who generally perform manual labor of some kind and/or have less education. Stereotypically, white collar workers earn more than blue collar workers, but this varies by job, industry and experience.
An etymology of the term ‘white-collar worker’ refers to the white dress shirts of male office workers common through most of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Western countries, as opposed to the blue overalls worn by many manual laborers.
The term “white collar” is credited to Upton Sinclair, an American writer, in relation to contemporary clerical, administrative, and management workers during the 1930s, though references to white-collar work appear as early as 1935. White collar employees are considered highly educated as compared to blue collar.
Formerly a minority in the agrarian and early industrial societies, white-collar workers have become a majority in industrialized countries due to modernization and outsourcing of manufacturing jobs.
The blue-collar and white-collar descriptors as it pertains to work dress may no longer be an accurate descriptor as office attire has broadened beyond a white shirt and tie. Employees in office environments may wear a variety of colors, may dress in business casuals or wear casual clothes altogether. In addition, the work tasks have blurred. “White-collar” employees may perform “blue-collar” tasks (or vice versa). An example would be a restaurant manager who may wear more formal clothing yet still assist with cooking food or taking customers’ orders or a construction worker who also performs desk work.
Expectations of White Collar Jobs
White-collar positions are often expected to offer opportunities to advance to more significant roles as managers or executives. A white-collar role is likewise expected to generate higher paying salaries with the potential to continue to rapidly scale up their income with further advancement.
These jobs typically are based in an office; however, some industries make still require a presence in the field. This is especially true for professionals who regularly meet with clients and customers, or travel to conferences and meetings.
Attorneys, accountants, architects, bankers, real estate agents, business consultants, and brokers are often described as white-collar positions. Though the actual work performed typically is not menial, white-collar roles can require the professional to commit to extensive hours during the workweek, as well as on weekends.
White-collar professionals may be expected to be on call even during vacation times and outside of normal business hours. At senior levels, they may be part of a firm’s upper management and hierarchy.
White-collar workers are often expected to develop specialized skills over time, making them increasingly valuable intellectual assets for the growth of the company. For example, an accountant may have to keep abreast of all regulatory changes that could affect how their clients or company reports income. An attorney will need to keep themselves apprised of recent rulings and changes in case law that affect their area of expertise. Real estate agents will need to keep track of fluctuations in real estate prices and the underlying influences that drive such trends.
Less physical activity among white-collar workers has been thought to be a key factor in increased life-style related health conditions such as fatigue, obesity, diabetes, hypertension, cancer, and heart disease. Also, working at a computer could potentially lead to diseases associated with monotonous data entry such as carpal tunnel syndrome.
Workplace interventions such as alternative activity workstations, sit-stand desks, promotion of stair use are among measures being implemented to counter the harms of sedentary workplace environments. The quality of evidence used to determine the effectiveness and potential health benefits of many of these interventions is weak. More research is needed to determine which interventions may be effective in the long-term.
Low quality evidence indicates that sit-stand desks may reduce sitting in the workplace during the first year of their use, however, it is not clear if sit-stand desks may be effective at reducing sitting in the longer-term.