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Gross Jobs: How Managers Can Help

Sanitation, waste collection, custodial work, animal control, corrections, these sorts of “gross jobs” are almost always in demand. Many of these jobs absolutely need to be done by someone…even if most people don’t want to do them.

These “gross jobs” can be very hard on employees.

What can managers do to help? Keep reading for some useful strategies.

(These strategies are probably also helpful for managers in pretty much any occupation).

Managing “dirty work”

A group of researchers conducted in-depth interviews with managers in 18 different types of “gross jobs”.

The results of this research identified helpful management strategies from 3 different phases:

  1. Recruitment and selection
  2. Onboarding and training
  3. Ongoing support

In other words, there are helpful strategies that managers can use at every stage of the employment process.

1. Recruitment and selection

Finding the right people

Managers can help by selecting people with interests, values, or personality traits that correspond well to the work. Because “dirty work” has some undesirable aspects, hiring people who actually like some other aspects of the work might be especially important.

Realistic job previews

Managers can help by making sure candidates know what they’re getting themselves into. Realistic job previews already have documented benefits such as greater loyalty and reduced turnover, but they might be especially important when the undesirable aspects of the job are more pronounced, such as with “gross jobs.”

2. Onboarding and training

Tip-toeing, or diving right in

When it’s time to get started, new workers need to overcome their aversions to whatever “dirty” aspects of the work.

Managers identified 2 potential strategies that can help:

  • Desensitization: Start out slow, with shorter or smaller amounts of exposure to the job. Increase as you build up to it over time. That way, the worker can build familiarity or tolerance without being overwhelmed at first.
  • Immersion: Sometimes it’s better to just get it over with. Have the worker just experience what it’s really like. In some cases, it can even be helpful to expose the worker to an extreme situation or “worst-case scenario.”

It can also be helpful to share stories about how other employees have reacted to situations on the job.

Managing external relationships

One of the most difficult aspects of “dirty work” or “gross jobs” is actually not the work itself. It’s dealing with other people who don’t do that job. What do they think about you? What do they think about your job? Are they judging you?

Managers can help by showing new employees appropriate and effective ways to interact with people.

Building perspective

When you’re working, it’s easy to get really fixated on the work itself. Which might be bad if the work itself is unpleasant.

Managers can help by providing a better sense of perspective. Why is this gross job in demand? Why is it necessary? What are the benefits of doing your work? Who are you helping? What would happen if the work wasn’t done? It’s important to think about these things, especially when the job might seem undesirable in other ways.

3. Ongoing support

Providing validation

This is pretty similar to the last entry on perspective. Managers can help by providing ongoing validation. Remind workers about the good that comes from the work they do.

Protecting from hazards

“Dirty work” can often be more dangerous than your average job. Managers can help by staying vigilant, taking steps to minimize risks, and perhaps most importantly, listening when employees “speak up”.

Setting boundaries

We mentioned earlier that one of the most difficult aspects of “dirty work” is dealing with other people. Showing employees how best to interact with other people is one part.

The other part is setting boundaries with other people. Sometimes employees should be “on” at work, and sometimes it’s better if they’re “backstage.”

Negotiating relationships and boundaries can be an ongoing process, and managers can help by paying attention and stepping in when needed to provide support or advice.

Good advice, “gross job” or not

The strategies for managing “dirty work” seem fairly universal.

The jobs themselves may be different, more extreme in some ways. But maybe not that different. There’s probably something that almost any manager can take from reviewing these strategies.