White-collar work is perceived as being corporate level or business-oriented and is performed in an office setting or at a desk using technical and electronic resources such as computers. Whereas some organizations may be solely composed of positions defined as white-collar work, others have a variety of work to include white-collar, blue-collar, and service-level positions. Every industry is different, and organizations within industries may find that there is a need for a combination of workers. However, industries saturated with organizations performing white-collar work are more likely to have workers who have strong intellectual capabilities and are paid a salary based on their level of intelligence and ability to perform complex or complicated work. More than likely, white-collar work is not paid on an hourly basis. Consequently, organizations pay white-collar workers a high salary for the performance of work that is indefinite in quantity and quality. White-collar work brings to mind work performed by an employee who has an advanced degree acquired after years of study at a college or other educational institution.
Employees at the white-collar level include professional, administrative, technical, and clerical staff. While managers and supervisors are not always included in this category, they can be technical managers and supervisors, performing the work in addition to giving oversight to the work being performed by others. This grouping (professional, administrative, technical, and clerical) is referred to as PATC by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
The concept of white-collar work was derived from the studies of criminologist Edward Sutherland, who coined the term “white-collar crime.” The crimes committed by white-collar workers are defined as nonviolent crimes. The crimes generally take place within a corporation by professional, administrative, technical, or clerical workers in the course of performing their business duties. Sutherland’s studies introduced a different thought process or direction of criminal activity in which crime is performed at a higher level. Some of the criminal activity identified includes tax evasion, insider trading, computer fraud, forgery, unfair labor practices, bribery, embezzlement, false advertising, financial theft, and/or fraud (as in securities dealing).
White collar is indicative of white-collar, button-down shirts worn by workers performing less physical work; they perform desk work. Workers have the flexibility to wear professional clothing because they do not perform hard labor—work requiring a significant amount of movement or that would cause them to exert much energy. The work is not dirty work or work that would get their clothing soiled. The work performed is non-manual in nature, not laborious. White-collar work requires practical knowledge, the use of learned experience, thought process, mental engagement, problem solving, analysis, and task orientation. Another perspective would be that white-collar work requires advanced knowledge and the ability to perform work that is principally intellectual in context, requiring consistent exercise of discretion and judgment. The advanced knowledge is customarily acquired by an extended course of specialized intellectual instruction.
White-collar work is viewed as non-routine mental operations or processes based on particular information or on dealings with individuals. Due to the nature of white-collar work, it is almost impossible to track, observe, and evaluate the work. For example, white-collar workers apply their knowledge of management, health care, or human resource management to a variety of individual situations such as dealing with workflow processes, assessing the health of a patient, performance management and other forms of employee relations, interpreting or applying relevant laws and regulations, and supervising and evaluating employees. The ability to do this type of work is learned through experience and acquired education. Some organizations may also offer training in the workplace to support the performance of effective white-collar work. White-collar work requires intellectual ability to learn such skills. Organizations traditionally assume academic ability and education to affirm a worker’s ability to learn and perform white-collar work. Organizations rely on this experience as a valid premise to recruit and allocate workers to perform white-collar work.
White-collar work is sought after by individuals as an entry or starting point to their career development. This inroad would lead to opportunities for personal growth and development in a professional field of work. As employees thrive in the performance of white-collar work, they are able to take on more expansive levels of white-collar work. If there were degrees of white-collar work, one could gauge or chart a path of progression by degree. For example, this potential could occur through advancement within an organization from grade level to grade level—denoting an upward progression. Advancement could also come in the form of lateral progression in that white-collar work hones skills that are transferable in nature. For example, professional skills such as analysis can be utilized in different departments or divisions within an organization. The skill level would offer the opportunity to move within the organization laterally from one white-collar position to another outside of the initial department or division. This level of achievement would come as an employee reaches an employer’s expectation of preferred performance or feels the need to redeploy its intellectual capital. White-collar work can be achieved as a progressive or developmental process for individuals who may not have secured an educational background to support direct entry into white-collar work.
The benefit of white-collar work as a form of career development draws on an employee’s intellectual knowledge base, viewed by organizations as intellectual capital. Also, it sets employees apart and distinguishes their capabilities within the workforce. Its challenging level of work pushes employees to draw on their past experience, educational background, ability to discern, analyze, assess, measure, and derive answers in order to respond to work issues. White-collar work is perceived as work that challenges the intellect of employees who are capable of handling advanced-level work.
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