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Build Employee Management around Respect

Sep 21, 2012

Have a position description for yourself as well as for each employee. It helps you focus on your appropriate roles and respectfully define your position to others.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension

Over the years I have had close contact with several participants in two scholarship programs offered to individuals in countries of the former British Empire. Both scholarships fund international study tours for professionals in many fields, including agriculture. A feature I appreciate is that these tours offer an international snapshot on a particular topic chosen by the scholar. In 2002-03 Richard Gardner of Tunbridge, Tasmania, Australia, took on the topic, “The Role of People in Expanding Agricultural Business.”

One category of Gardner’s section on managing human resources focused on building respect between the employees and the employer. Gardner identifies these characteristics that build the relationship of respect:

• ability to work as hard, or harder, than employees
• have a positive attitude
• ability to give clear instructions and targets
• mutual trust

“The hard part of trying to work as hard as your employees is that they need to understand your role in the business as well as theirs,” Gardner writes. “Making employees aware of what it is you are doing inside the office or away from the farm is important in helping to build respect. The other key is understanding the times when it is important to be working alongside the people who work for you.”

This is one reason I recommend the owner/manager have a position description as well as one for each of the employees on the farm. It helps you focus on your appropriate roles and helps respectfully define your role to others.

A positive attitude on the part of the owner/manager will also impact greatly how he or she communicates instructions and goals to the employees. All that leads to a mutual trust of one another in which employees can feel valued and employers can feel comfortable that the work is being done and being done well.

Paul Meshanko, human resources trainer and author of “The Respect Effect,” takes a little different approach to respect. He states, “When leaders are able to create work environments that consistently value, esteem and nurture employees, they increase employee engagement.

This approach of not only valuing the contributions of employees but also recognizing and rewarding that value will greatly increase the emotional commitment employees have for their employer, their work and their desire for superior performance,” Meshanko adds. “The employees recognized for their work continue to strive for that recognition and more. They are much more likely to continue being excellent performers. “

Finally, Dr. Bernie Erven, Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University, adds to the idea of employer- employee relationships by asking the question, “Buddy or Boss? An Important Question.”

At a 2005 agricultural employee management conference, Erven challenged employers to determine what they want to be to their employees. While there is no question they have a relationship, being a buddy or a boss will impact how they manage the employees and what degree of respect they have for each other. Being the “buddy” or close friend presents the risk of setting up appearances of favoritism toward one employee over another. It also makes tough decisions regarding employees difficult to make and communicate.

One can be a “boss” and be friendly. In this position, being a friend opens lines of communication but maintains a certain degree of separation and authority, so when decisions must be made, they can be made and conveyed in a fair manner to all employees. The approach of being a friend can open communication lines when there is a sense of wanting to help each other, understanding of each other’s needs, honesty and appropriate times for informality and forgiveness when things aren’t perfect. This can lead to respect. Being a friend doesn’t mean being a buddy.

Having seen several different examples of respect and how it is achieved, what is your style or preference? It might be a mix of styles, depending on situations, how many employees you manage, or how much the family is intermingled into the workforce. These factors play a role as well.

Regardless of your method to gain and show respect, consider it as you work. Respect is earned and it is most readily earned when managers are fair with their employees and consistent in their management.

Know what you expect of your employees. Make sure they know what you expect. Work with them to achieve goals good for them and your business.

The full Nuffield Scholarship Report by Richard Gardner can be read here.

Chuck Schwartau is an Extension Educator at the University of Minnesota. Contact him at

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