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Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

What Is Important to Your Employees?

Apr 30, 2012

It may be quite different than you think.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
How well do you know your employees? Do you know what is important to them? Do you know what they value and like about their work?
While most employers would like to think they can answer those questions in an affirmative manner, they might be surprised if they surveyed the employees. How you view the importance of issues related to the work may be significantly different from how the employees view those same factors. 
Vicki Niebrugge, NOVA Group, conducted a survey of employees and employers to see how well the two groups were agreed on factors that affect employee morale.  

Employers’ Ranking
Employees’ Ranking
Good wages
Job security
Good working conditions
Interesting work
Personal loyalty
Tactful discipline
Appreciation and recognition
Sympathetic help with problems
Feeling “in on things

Niebrugge, Vicki, Declining Employee Morale: Defining the Causes and Finding the Cure, NOVA Group
Especially noteworthy is the item of “Wages.” It is pretty natural that employers would expect wages to be the No. 1 issue with employees. Surprise – it was No. 5 on the employees’ list. Look at what ranked higher with employees: interesting work, appreciation and recognition, a feeling of knowing what is happening in the business and job security were more important. Take note, also, of the fact the top four employee issues aren’t economic. 
Employees like to know how their jobs fit into the business as a whole and that their job contributes to the success of the business. Those two items are feeling “in on things” and can be related to “interesting work” and “recognition” for value of their work. How often have you taken time to really explain to your employees how their work affects the work of others on the farm and affects the financial bottom line on your farm? Without good, productive employees, your financial picture would probably look a lot different.
The items in the table above may not be as closely related to your farm employees as you would like, so why not take time at an upcoming employee meeting to conduct a short survey of your own. The following survey might stir productive discussion and help you determine what is important to your employees and worth consideration to increase employee satisfaction. If you identify other relevant questions, feel free to add them.

Score 1-5
5=very important
3 = average importance
1 = not important
How well is this being met today? Score 1 - 5
5 = very well
3 = being met somewhat
1 = not being met at all
Flexibility of scheduling
Time off in blocks for holidays
The opportunity to plan your own workload
Working with others
Good housing (provided or available for rent)
Feeling like they ‘belong’ in the community
Personal development
Education, training, and other professional development
Stable employment
Other items (please list)

Having employees give you feedback on a questionnaire like this can help you look at ways to make your farm a place they and others will want to work in the future. Do not put a place on the form for their names, and specifically tell them you do not want to know who is making the comments. That should increase the comfort level with the survey. At the same time, though, let them know if they do want to talk with you personally, you are available to them.
If you are dealing with a workforce that speaks little or no English, this is simple enough to get translated in another language. If the workforce happens to have limited reading skills, what you can learn would be worth paying to have someone translate and work with the employees for oral responses to be recorded. 
Finally, when you learn what is important to your employees, work toward positive changes where possible. For items that are impossible to change, or at least difficult in the short term, explain to your employees that you understand their concerns but they may or may not be changeable on your farm, and explain why. That offers recognition for their input and understanding of the difficulties the farm may have implementing some of their ideas and concerns. 
Some time spent on these issues can lead to greater employee satisfaction and lower employee turnover. Those two items can make life on the farm easier and usually more profitable.
Finally, remember, many of these factors of satisfaction are not financial, but they revolve around personal relationships. Managing employees on a farm is extremely difficult without regularly interacting with those same employees. Take time to know them and recognize them for their contributions. It should pay in the end.
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at cschwart@umn.edu or (507) 536-6301.
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