Are you an employer of choice?

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farm workers

Hello, northeast Ohio. I know many involved in agriculture have had a lot of worries on their minds this spring. Front and center of course are the planting challenges that our La Nina weather patterns presented. Other stressors include supply chain shortages, high fuel and fertilizer prices, eroding capital, inflation and the constant struggle with labor. 

Today, I would like to share some thoughts on one of these issues: labor. In the May edition of Ohio State University Extension’s Farm Office Live webinar, Margaret Jodlowski provided an agricultural labor update. She reported many farm and non-farm businesses are struggling to attract and maintain good employees. 

Jodlowski also shared that summer job postings are 40% higher than in February and that labor wages continue to rise. 

Many Ohio farms have primarily relied on family members to provide the necessary labor. However, as farm businesses grow in size and complexity, our workforces are expanding to include non-family labor. Operating a highly competitive dairy operation requires the talents of many people, especially when field and dairy operations are being conducted simultaneously. 

So, to meet today’s labor challenges, how can your farm become an “employer of choice?” 

Weaknesses

Recently, two extension colleagues from Michigan State University completed a study on the effects of employer management on employee recruitment, satisfaction, engagement and retention on large U.S. dairy farms. Stan Moore and Phil Durst identified six common management areas as weaknesses on many dairy farms. 

The areas identified were: failure to specify goals, failure to encourage employee input, employee-to-employee problems, lack of communication, failure to provide training and failure to provide specific positive feedback. 

They found that employees who had a good relationship with their employer and who understood goals, directions and how their work fit into the accomplishment of those goals were more likely to be satisfied in their jobs. 

Management

So how are you doing with your labor management? This summer, I would encourage you to take some time to think about the ways you can enhance your employee management program. 

Are job duties and expectations clearly defined? Should an employee handbook be developed? Are we providing coaching and instruction at opportune times? Do we hold employee meetings? How can we increase the skills of our employees? In what ways can we improve the working environment for our employees? 

In what areas would we like our employees to improve and how can we help them improve? How can we remove employee dis-satisfiers such as unsafe equipment, unreasonable rules and policies and conflict with co-workers? How can we encourage and reward initiative, innovation, and new ideas? 

Motivation

It is no secret that motivated employees are more productive. Bernie Erven, OSU Professor Emeritus, often cited an employee paradigm that states: “You can buy people’s time: you can buy their physical presence at a given place, you can even buy a measured number of their skilled muscular motions per hour. But you cannot buy the devotion of their hearts, minds or souls. You must earn these.” 

How are you doing in keeping your dairy employees motivated? Have you taken time to ask your employees what motivates them? Many employers would be shocked to learn that good wages and job security are not necessarily the ultimate motivators. 

A study conducted some time ago by George Mason University showed the top three motivators for employees were interesting work, appreciation and feeling in on things. Granted, with today’s inflation, competitive wages are a crucial part to being an employer of choice. 

Have you checked to see how your wages compare to other industries in your region? Some employees are internally motivated while others are motivated by external rewards. By listening to employees, you can develop strategies to reward and motivate them. 

Some of these strategies could include: verbal praise, free meals, work uniforms, annual salary increase, free gas, tickets to a ball game, unexpected paid time off, bonuses, flexible work schedules, special gifts for special occasions and extra vacation days. And never forget how far a sincere thank you or compliment can go for any employee, including family members. 

Priority

If you are looking to add to your employee management toolbox, I would encourage you to check out the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s “Becoming the Employer of Choice” resources at arms.extension.wisc.edu/programs/becoming-the-employer-of-choice. 

Good luck as you continue to negotiate and manage through these topsy-turvy times. And remember to keep employee management as a top priority. The investment that you put into your employees today will reward you in the future. Have a good and safe day. 

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David Marrison is an associate professor and Extension educator, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension. He can be reached at 740-622-2265 or marrison.2@osu.edu.

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