Understanding and patience is key to managing multi-generation farm

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After reading the Dairy Excel column in the March 25 issue about hiring teen workers and knowing the law, I began thinking, not only is it important to know the law, but also to understand this younger generation of workers.

As a manager, you must realize that every generation has its own values and personal characteristics. This is true whether you are working with family or non-family members.

We currently have four generations in the workplace and there is probably no other business that realizes this challenge more than agriculture.

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The veteran generation born from 1922-1945, the baby boomers, 1946-1964, the Xers, 1965-1980 and the millennials, 1981-2000, are all working together on many farms across Ohio. Each generation tends to believe the other generations “don’t get it” or that “they have it so much easier than we did/do.”

I’m sure you’ve heard comments like, “farming was less stressful back then” or “riding around in that air-conditioned tractor sure is easier than when I was farming without a cab on my tractor.”

Each generation has had significant events, individual influences and technological developments that have helped to shape who they are and what they value.

There is room on the farm for each of these groups, but it takes some understanding and patience to learn the different characteristics. Once you, as a manager understand the generations involved in your farm, it will be easier for you to motivate, assign job duties, communicate with and reward your employees.

Differences

Let’s review some of the generational attitudes and characteristics related to the workplace. Veterans are hard workers, view work as an obligation and tend to be more interested in working as an individual.

They are more formal in their communications and more likely to write a note than make a call. Feedback is not necessary as “no news is good news.” They are motivated by respect and a feeling of job satisfaction.

Boomers, on the other hand, view work as an exciting adventure and many times are workaholics. They would rather work as part of a team and are more likely to have meetings with work teams.

They prefer to communicate face-to-face and don’t really appreciate feedback on how they are doing. “I don’t need to be told how I’m doing, just give me a raise or promotion.”

Motivation comes in the form of being valued and needed by others.

Another perspective

Generation X is self-reliant and looks for structure and direction in the workplace. They tend to be entrepreneurs and view work as a difficult challenge.

They embrace direct and immediate communication and value feedback. Freedom to try new things and do it their way is considered both a reward and motivator. This generation is the first to find importance in balancing work and family.

The Millennials, or Generation Y, value entrepreneurial opportunities, multitasking and looking for the next thing to do. They are very goal oriented and view work as a means to an end. It’s important for this generation to participate in decisions and feel like they are a part of the farm.

They communicate through technology, i.e. cell phones, texting, instant messages, social media, etc. They are used to instant feedback and are rewarded and motivated by working with creative individuals and what they consider to be meaningful work. The Millennials have carried on the importance of work and family balance.

Using this knowledge

Now that you have a little background for each of the generations, you can probably understand why there are conflicts on a farm with three or four of these generations represented.

Resolving those conflicts will entail understanding that Generations X and Y still work hard, they just will be looking for more ways to balance their work life with their family lives.

Time off is important to them as well as flexible schedules. As a manager, you may have to become more creative in scheduling your employees.

Mentoring, whether formal or informal, can be a good way for veterans and boomers to share their experience and help the millennials understand the farm history and feel more a part of the farm.

Mentors can also help provide the direction that Xers appreciate. Mentoring can also be reversed with the younger generation helping the more mature generations understand and learn new precision farming technologies or social media applications.

Important information

By understanding the generational group characteristics, mangers can develop a system of feedback, rewards and communication channels that will be motivating to employees.

It is important to understand each individual employee and knowing these generational characteristics is a great starting point. Too many times, we think the only way, and the right way, is our way.

This thought process just doesn’t work effectively, so to increase productivity and work as an efficient team, get to know the generational characteristics involved in your farm and what is important to each of them.

(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Erie County.)

About the Author

(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Ashland County.) More Stories by Julia Nolan Woodruff

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