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

Create a Positive Work Environment for Your Hispanic Employees

Feb 07, 2011

You don’t have to spend a lot of money to develop a good work climate. Here are several ways to improve morale and team work even in tough economic times.

 
By Dr. Mireille Chahine, Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho; and Mario de Haro Marti, Extension Educator, University of Idaho
 
Chahine photo   Copy
Dr. Mireille Chahine
Dairy producers tend to be very satisfied with their Hispanic employees’ work ethics and often describe them as hard-working individuals who rarely take sick days and who dedicate most of their time to work. 
 
There is a general agreement that times have been very tough for dairy producers, and dairy employees are being asked to do more with less. This significantly raises the stress level on a dairy and could lead to an unpleasant work environment, negatively affecting the productivity of the dairy as well as employees’ retention. 
 
Many of us have been employed at places that we were less than excited to wake up and go to work at. It is not a pleasant experience. Several articles have been written and numerous seminars have been conducted on this subject, but dairies still struggle when attempting to create a positive work environment for their Hispanic employees. Dairy owners and managers feel overwhelmed, and they do not know where to start.  
 
Remember that employees who work in a welcoming environment are more productive, and that a good work climate will improve morale and team work even in tough economic times. 
DeHaro Marti photo   Copy
Mario de Haro Marti
 
 
So, let’s look at some ways to create a positive working environment for your Hispanic (and non-Hispanic) workforce without spending a lot of money.
 
1.                   Avoid yelling at your employees. Have you ever been yelled at? Do you remember how you felt when someone was talking to you in a disrespectful manner? Hispanic workers are very sensitive to the tone of voice used to communicate with them. They become very offended and very defensive when someone yells at them, insults them or embarrasses them. In addition, yelling diminishes the authority of a manager. So the next time you talk to one of your workers, deliberately think about the tone of voice you are using and make sure you are talking to them calmly and with respect. We can assure you will have a better luck retaining a good, reliable dairy workforce.
 
2.                   Treat employees with courtesy and respect but do not become buddies. Great managers command respect by example. They are kind and courteous with all employees without exceptions or preferences. If you start some type of friendship with some employees, keep that friendship outside the workplace and always draw limits at work to avoid conflict of interests.
 
3.                   Be fair and do not play favorites. Justice and fairness should always be standard practices on a dairy. A dairy producer/manager should never play favorites to avoid fomenting anger and losing respect.
 
4.                   Recognize a job well done. Recognizing employees does not have to involve spending a lot of money. Studies have shown that recognizing someone immediately after they do a good job is very powerful. An unexpected small gift or a free lunch might also be nice. Just make sure not to always give the same gift so it does not become an expectation.
 
5.                   Show interest in your workers. Understand the importance and show interest in the Hispanic worker’s family and culture. Dairy producers need to remember that family is very important in the Hispanic culture. Hispanic employees miss their family if they are far away, or have a whole different set of struggles if they are close (new society, culture, language, etc.), but they often do not share their feelings with their boss because they do not want to upset him/her. 
 
6.                   Be approachable. Hispanic workers not only are hard-working people, they also bring to the dairy new ideas and ways to perform some tasks. In addition, all workers on a dairy perform daily operations and sometimes they observe problems with the procedures they do on a daily basis. You need to be open and approachable, so your employees feel comfortable sharing with you their ideas on how to improve the operation, save money, time or make their job easier or more enjoyable without losing quality.
 
7.                   Treat Hispanic and all workers as individuals and not as a group. Recognize that all employees are individuals and they expect to be treated as a person. Avoid generalizations when you address them, in your management decisions, and in worker recognition or warnings.
 
8.                   Make sure middle management is on board. Make sure that middle managers know about the workplace rules. We personally know several dairy owners who are wonderful but they really do not know how their middle manager employees are treating the Hispanic workers. Most of the time, the owners are very approachable to their managers and they believe that, with that, everything will be OK. Be open to all of your employees, and sometimes check out how employees feel about their managers.
 
In summary, remember that most of the time people do not leave jobs, they leave managers. Respect your employees as human beings with rights to be treated fairly.  Individuals -- independent of the cultural background they come from -- are way more similar than different. It is important to understand the differences, but it is very important to recognize that we all strive to provide for our families, to educate and ensure a better future for our children and also have a better life by working in a safe and respectful environment. 
 
Dr. Mireille Chahine is Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist in the Animal and Veterinary Science Department at the University of Idaho in Twin Falls. Contact her at 208-736-3609 or mchahine@uidaho.edu.
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