What colour is your hard hat?
People on job sites are picky about their hard hats.
Every site we’ve been on with Behind the Scenes, I’ve found that there’s a whole thing with hard hats. What colour of hat you wear is important. Though we’ve only been to a few so far, I’ve been assured that this trend will continue.
You don’t merely pick a helmet colour. These are assigned based on specific criteria.
Every site has the ordinary kind of helmet. These are for essentially competent workers who don’t really play a specialized role. They don’t necessarily denote skill nor elevated status. They are for the regular every day workers.
Wear a regular every day workers hard hat and you won’t stand out. You won’t attract attention. You get to be part of the crowd. People in these groups don’t compete with other helmet class for status. They do it with themselves. Their metrics frequently are success based, around how much, or virtue based around how consistent, how on time or how helpful.
Woe be to those who are lazy, late and unsafe. They never survive in a pack of the regular kind of helmets.
The next colour are the green ones. Those are for the green people, the rookies. The green lets everyone else know where they are. It’s a visual sign that says: I’m not yet competent, you can’t trust me. Look out for me.
When working in a dangerous place, this information is essential. Sure, rookies get a certain amount of teasing for their mistakes. And that’s a way that the regular ones bring them into their group. Groups require humility and openness to the established culture when new people show up.
When you’re working hundreds of feet above the ground, knowing that the new people will follow the more experienced staff is important for the collective trust to continue. Status can be gained as a regular one by helping rookies, being asked to train them or doing any thing to help raise the status of the green helmets.
And when people are mean to or overly harsh to a green helmet, they quickly lose status. Everyone started as a green helmet. The success of the group comes from helping people graduate from green helmets to the regular kind.
Then there are the white hats. They are worn by supervisors, leads and whatever other term you have for person in charge. Engineers always show up in green helmets. They create an interesting problem. They all think that they’re in charge. Yet they all are different people with a different perspective unable to speak in one voice.
Engineers are often rookies. They sometimes wear a green hat for a while. When this happens, they are at the lowest of the hat heap. Even rookies destined to the regular kind of hard hat have higher status than the one day white hat.
The hats create hierarchies. Status games take place within and between these hierarchies. Admiration, respect and the shadow of respect, resentment flows in both directions.
When we think about the roles we play in the world - in our homes, at work and with our friends, we don’t have hats to tell us where we belong or what we can expect from each other.
If we did,
What colour would your hard hat be?
I’ve listed a few colours and potential meanings.
What would your hard hat look like? What would it tell the rest of us about what we could expect from you?