Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, satisfaction and longevity.
Little Gestures Go a Long Way with Your Workers
May 22, 2011
Simple daily actions will boost the morale and “feeling good at work” sentiments of your workers, Hispanic or not, leading to increased worker retention and comfort in the workplace.
By Mario E. de Haro Martí, Extension Educator, University of Idaho
The dairy industry has made enormous advances on its productivity and overall efficiency achieving production goals that would have been incredible 40 years ago. Despite all these great achievements, retaining a proficient and reliable work force, and keeping dairy workers happy in their jobs remain a tough challenge for the industry.
Since many of the dairy workers in the dairy industry are of Hispanic background (up to 75% or more in some areas), and many of them (if not most) are first-generation migrants, a natural cultural shock happens both for workers and dairy owners and managers. Many articles have been written about how to minimize this shock and work on an adequate transition while maintaining productivity, reducing conflicts, and increasing worker retention and satisfaction.
Let’s now talk about some specific gestures and actions that dairy owners and managers can apply without spending a lot of money. These actions applied on a daily basis will boost the morale and “feeling good at work” sentiments of your workers (Hispanic or not), leading in the long run to increased worker retention and comfort on the workplace.
1) Treat everybody in the same way: with respect and consideration. Do not yell at your employees. Give orders and ask for tasks in a respectful way. Be impartial when conflicts arise between employees, looking for the facts and logical ways to resolve them. Respect, and not fear, is what you need to look from your employees.
2) Listen to your employees. Workers are the day-to-day operatives of your company. They perform daily tasks and, besides knowing how to do them, they often bring good ideas to improve daily operations and to save time, effort or money. Many people have experienced the frustration of not being heard when a problem has been observed or when believing a task could be done differently. Be receptive to workers ideas, if you believe they will work try them, and if adopted, recognize the employee who brought them up. If some of their ideas won’t work, just explain to them why they can’t be adopted and thank them for bringing them up anyway.
3) Encourage your employees to learn English. That’s easy to say but sometimes difficult to achieve. Just picture yourself working 10 hours six days a week in physically demanding work (that leaves you dirty and stinky so you will need a shower before entering any classroom) and then traveling 40 minutes or so (no dairy is near a college) to sit for at least an hour, two or three times a week, and learn a totally new language. How do you think you will do? Ask your local college, university or migrant council for English as a Second Language (ESL) classes and post their flyers in your facilities. Look for ways to encourage workers to attend such classes. Be willing to allow a little flexibility with shifts so they can go to class. You could even provide transportation for a group of workers, or offer your facilities (meeting room) for ESL classes.
4) Learn basic Spanish words and expressions and apply them daily. Learning the Spanish version of greetings, thanks, some respectful “no” phrases, polite questions and goodbyes can have wonderful effects on making your Hispanic workers feel that you are making an effort to be closer and to understand them better.
5) Develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in both English and Spanish for all important tasks. Ask your employees to be familiar with the SOPs related to their work. Be aware that some employees may be illiterate even in Spanish, so someone will need to read and explain the SOP to them. Have all signs within the dairy written in both languages.
6) Provide facilities that make workers feel appreciated and safe. Workers should have a clean area for changing clothes, and some sort of storage for their clothes, boots and personal belongings. They should also have access to a place and supplies to clean their boots and working tools (it helps with biosecurity issues too). Provide a clean room or area for lunch/dinner, with potable water, refrigerator, microwave, tables, chairs and a sink. Designate lunch and dinner times for each employee or group of employees. Provide clean and well maintained bathrooms, if possible with showers. If you have workers of both genders, provide separate bathroom and changing facilities for each gender. Ask your employees to help maintain clean facilities by applying sound housekeeping principles (and enforce them). But have someone in charge of the routine cleaning of bathrooms, changing areas, kitchen or lunch room, and offices (like a housekeeping company or an hourly employee).
7) Host regular meetings with your employees. Do two types of meetings: operational meetings and social meetings, and keep them separated and well defined. Operational meetings should include meetings with managers and employees by sectors or areas of work (milkers, feeders, etc.). During these meetings, discuss items proper to their activities, goals, new tasks, safety and trainings. Operational meetings should be mandatory and scheduled on a regular basis. Social meetings are very important too. Dairy owners usually recognize Hispanics as a hardworking community, but they also like to socialize and enjoy community life. Social meetings at the dairy are a good way to socialize with them and to recognize them for a job well done. Monthly, quarterly, semi-annually -- you decide. But social meetings where you, your managers, workers and sometimes families meet for a meal and a “worker’s appreciation day” are highly valued by workers.
8) Be aware of your workers’ life benchmarks. Hispanic workers usually are reserved about their private life, but asking them how everything is at home won’t be seen as being nosy. On the contrary, it will show that you care. To reinforce that, a great way to increase workers’ appreciation for your company and your family is to show interest in their family life benchmarks. Small presents for a newborn, kid’s graduation, or simply a word of support in case of a family illness or loss are very much appreciated and add to an overall feeling of belonging to a workplace.
Making your dairy a better place to work at doesn’t necessarily take a lot of money. Small investments in your workers’ well being, reinforcing good attitudes, and being open and accessible can dramatically improve your workers’ satisfaction and retention.