How work has changed since the 1930’s and what we need to learn

Upton Sinclair was an American writer and political activist who, in the mid 1930’s, wrote a series of allegorical novels that exposed poor working conditions in various USA work environments between the World Wars.

He first coined the term “white collar worker” to describe those who were involved in professional, managerial or administrative work.

He compared those who arrived at work in white dress shirts (male, of course) with others who wore blue overalls, the “blue collar workers” and performed manual labour.

in the 1970’s (and in the thick of the female emancipation movement of the time), writer Louise Kapp Howe introduced the term “pink collar workers”, describing those (pre-dominantly female) involved in customer interaction, entertainment, sales and service.

Over the years, the boundaries between these categories (and genders) have slowly eroded.

We expect our white collar workers to roll up their sleeves every now and then.

We expect our blue collar workers to complete paperwork or get a signature on an electronic receipt machine.

We expect everyone to be able to deliver a customer service experience – to have a gregarious personality at work.

The workplace is now changing in ways that obliterate these 20th Century distinctions – technology makes both thinkers, doers and communicators of us all.

When interviewing for new people (or internally promoting) it now pays to ask yourself some questions around the person applying for the job:

  • can this person handle digital administration?
    • that might include a modern switchboard, practice management and/or CRM software, digital dental technology – even simple spreadsheets and cloud-based accountancy;
  • can this person get their hands dirty?
    • sometimes, we just have to pick up a magazine that has fallen on the floor – I once sat in a dental reception and watched numerous team members walk past a lifestyle magazine that had fallen off a coffee table – “not my job” syndrome;
  • can this person communicate?
    • being nice to fellow team members and to patients – it would seem like a simple request but God help you if you pick someone who isn’t nice – it happens.

Mr. Sinclair would, no doubt, be intrigued to see how his categorisations have changed in the 21st Century.



In 2017 and beyond, we had all better be white, blue and pink.


Published by

Chris Barrow

Chris Barrow has been active as a consultant, trainer and coach to the UK dental profession for over 20 years. As a writer, his blog enjoys a strong following and he is a regular contributor to the dental press. Naturally direct, assertive and determined, he has the ability to reach conclusions quickly, as well as the sharp reflexes and lightness of touch to innovate, change tack and push boundaries. In 2014 he appeared as a “castaway” in the first season of the popular reality TV show “The Island with Bear Grylls”. His main professional focus is as Coach Barrow, providing coaching and mentorship to independent dentistry.