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Labor Matters

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

Shifting Labor Paradigms

Sep 26, 2011

How do you see your employees: As a necessary evil or as your greatest asset?

 

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges

How do you see your employees: As a necessary evil or as your greatest asset?

Your answer to this question may be important to help understand why your farm works as it does. In this month’s column, I give you my observations as food for thought. You may agree or disagree, but I think these thoughts are important to consider.

After being in the workforce for some 40 years in many capacities, I have observed that there are two basic paradigms of employment.

The first is very traditional in the world today. It is also an old paradigm, having been around almost forever. The employee is a necessary tool to achieve production. He or she is expendable and, at any infraction, can be fired and replaced. There is no real relationship, and therefore, little trust on either side. The employer has the power and the employee either does what the employer wants, or is released or disciplined.

Out of this mindset came the union movement. This movement achieved much in the way of help and protection for workers. However, it does have its drawbacks. One I have observed is that unions tend to protect mediocrity, or those who shouldn’t really be in that job. The motives are noble, but the effect is sometimes contrary to their original intent.

Because of the confrontational nature of this type of employing, there is little trust on either side. The employees’ motives are to do the least possible work for the most possible pay. The employers’ motives are the opposite: Get the most possible work for the least money. It is hard to find understanding and cooperation for the good of all in such a set-up.

The other paradigm is also old. It has had a history in small family businesses and farms for centuries, and in many countries. It also has been gaining popularity on many of the dairy farms where I work. The idea here is that employees are an asset. Without them, your business wouldn’t run. Just like a retailer does everything he or she can to court customers (customers also being an asset), the employer does whatever he or she can to help the employees do their best job. They try to help the employee realize his or her potential and take away the greatest fear of the employee: to be fired.

Trust is established in this kind of paradigm -- the employer toward the employee and vice versa. The employer knows that because he or she won’t be firing anyone, the employee feels more loyalty and commitment, therefore becoming a better employee.

I always move in baby steps. Try this for now. I wonder how your farm might change if once a day, every day, you let your employees know in many different and creative ways how essential they are to your success. Not always a bonus but, rather, a thank you, a meal together, a phone card, any number of things to let them know they are valued and important. Let me know how this works for you! Next month: examples.

Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at shaunjd@tds.net or (608) 685-4705.
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