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Culture and Compensation

Jan 16, 2011

 ChuckSchwartau photo 

Many farms offer non-cash bonuses to their employees. The catch is to be sure these extras truly offer value to employees, especially if they come from a foreign culture.

By Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator, University of Minnesota, Rochester Regional Office
Many farms include some sort of “non-cash” bonuses in their total compensation package. These extras might be meat or milk, use of farm tools or vehicles for specific purposes, or perhaps garden space for families in their employ. 
All of these can have value to the employees with relatively little cash cost to the employer. The catch is to be sure what you offer in the way of these extras is something that is truly of value to the employee.
A few years ago when I was conducting a series of programs on labor management, this topic of compensation generated a great deal of conversation. One farm wife related this story.
The farm provided so many pounds of ground beef each week to its employees since they all had families and lived in homes that were owned by the farm. Nothing was ever said, and each week the employees took their meat home. One day, the farm wife happened to be at one of the home sites and noticed a large chunk of this ground beef in the dog dish.
Needless to say, she was a bit upset. She spoke with the employee’s wife and expressed her concern that this meat was intended for the family and was rather expensive dog food. During the course of the discussion, it came out that the part of Mexico from which this family had come was not familiar with ground beef and how to use it. They were very familiar with chopped beef, but ground beef was just another strange American item to them, and they didn’t know what to do with it. The ground beef had little value to the employee and his family.
As the discussion continued, another farmer related he had subscribed to the Spanish edition of some magazines and kept them in the break room of the dairy for the employees to read. Some of you might be doing something similar if you print out the Spanish addendums now available in many dairy industry magazines. The catch on this farm was when he discovered about half of his Spanish-speaking employees had minimal reading skills. In their home countries, they had entered the workforce at a very young age to help support their families, so they had very little education.
In both these examples, the intentions were very good, and in the mind of the employers, they were offering something the employees would appreciate. Unfortunately, because of the cultures in which those employees grew up, these “extras” had little or no value to the employee.
You might not have had quite the same experiences as these farmers cited, but have you considered whether non-cash portions of your compensation package are items your employees value as highly as you think? You might find there are other compensations they would value more. 
One farmer in our area had experience with employees calling that they couldn’t come to work because they didn’t have gas money. Since having employees report for their shifts is important, he saw value to helping put gas in their cars. Rather than just opening up the hose on the farm gas tank, he offered a pre-paid gas card at a local gas station as part of the extra compensation. 
Take Home Message: Spend some time getting to know your employees. Learn about their family situations and what they might appreciate receiving. We are all working to earn a living and we would hope your compensation package is fair in helping toward that goal, but sometimes it is those small things that can make a difference – if they are the right things.
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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COMMENTS (1 Comments)

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