Labor Matters: Cultural Differences

November 28, 2011 11:54 AM

TomFuhrmannBy Tom Fuhrmann

Like many dairy producers, you may employ Hispanic workers. These workers have an entirely different point of view about work, life and your dairy business than you do, because they come from a culture that is very different than yours.

Culture is a set of beliefs, customs, ideals and learned experiences that people accumulate through life and pass on over generations. American culture can be characterized as capitalistic (private enterprise favored more than government ownership), highly competitive and results oriented. American workers are accustomed to emphasize results more than personal interests.Time is a commodity that is divided, measured, plotted and tracked.

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In very general terms, Hispanic culture differs in the way it prioritizes interpersonal relationships, results and time. To illustrate: An American is on his way to work and sees someone he knows. He says "Hi," but explains that he has no time to talk, and his friend understands. An Hispanic in the same situation stops to talk even though he will be late. The relationship is the highly valued commodity. Saying "I have to go to work now" would be interpreted as "my work is more important than you."

Discussing cultural differences can lead to generalizing. While some people take offense at being categorized, the benefit of attempting to discuss cultural differences is its potential to bring harmony to a workplace where American dairy owners manage Hispanic workers. So let’s look more closely at these differences.

Money versus relationships. By American standards, many Hispanics working on your dairy come from poverty. Money is very important, both to live on here and to send as much back home as possible. But relationships are also very important. A boss who develops interpersonal relationships with his employees will not have them leave to work on another dairy for 50¢ an hour more. But an impersonal boss will experience high worker turnover even if he pays very well.

Fair versus equal. Americans view "fair" as treating a good worker differently than a poor worker. Higher compensation, promotions and benefits are paid to better performers; that’s our competitive culture. However, equal pay for equal work—for example, for day and night milkers; or more compensation for milking more cows, even if the work gets done in the same time—are concepts Hispanics tend to expect. A Hispanic lead milker might find it difficult to rank his fellow milkers from best to poorest because he likes everyone and doesn’t want to offend anyone, while an American owner wants to implement a bonus compensation program.

Goals versus standards. "Do it right, do it fast and get as much accomplished as possible" is the American manager’s mentality. By contrast, a Hispanic supervisor may not want to "push" milkers to stay on time, even when they are milking fewer cows than usual. Goals are the targets set by the American manager; standards are the performance level to which Hispanic workers need to be led (see below).



  • SCC < 200,000
  • Heat detection > 75%
  • Pregnancy rate > 22%
  • Dead & cull < 60 DIM < 7%
  • Dead on arrival < 6%
  • Death loss < 8%
  • Calf death loss < 2%
  • Clean teats on cows on  opposite side of parlor
  • Crayon placement
  • All ovsynch injections
  • Appetite, attitude, eyes
  • Learn stages of labor
  • Feed and water for downers; concern
  • Milk mixing spotless

Meshing cultures starts with a willingness to understand and an effort to learn from each other. The language barrier is a speed bump, but it is not a barrier to Hispanics living and working in an American dairy producer’s world.


TOM FUHRMANN, DVM, Glendale, Ariz., teaches and trains large dairy herd management.
Contact him at

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Spell Check

11/29/2011 03:50 AM

  The above also goes for Hispanic laborers in the fruit and vegetable industry.


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