I was recently looking over a farmer’s balance sheet and saw something strange — he had his employees and family listed on his balance sheet. This in itself is not strange; most balance sheets have employees listed on the short-term liability side, since they are not usually paid in full by midnight Dec. 31.
The strange part was to see them listed on the asset side. Now, none of them had true values, they either said “infinite” or “irreplaceable.” This struck me as an important attitude to have, especially today as margins get tight, we often look at employee costs as a way to trim expenses, but good employees are what really make a positive bottom line possible.
It also took me back to many of the things I have learned about employee management, and that if you take care of your employees they will take care of you.
Now I’m not going to rehash the five things Rory Lewandowski discussed back in July: having job descriptions, employee turnover, putting employee skills to use, and communicating how they are doing.
Instead, we are going to build on a few other areas. The first thing to think about is have you become too busy to manage as you have taken on more tasks than can be done in 24 hours to try to keep the farm going?
How is communication on your farm? This includes communication between the business partners/family and all your employees. Communication includes connecting with your employees and letting them know they are appreciated and respected.
Doing this goes beyond complimenting them when they do well. It entails actually connecting with them. Many of your employees have home lives that could rival Days of Our Lives or whichever soap opera you choose.
At other jobs, where they have co-workers and coffee breaks, employees vent or discuss these things, but on small farms their boss is the only person they have to connect with.
This leads to much deeper bonds between employees and bosses than on most jobs. This bond also creates problems, often employee managers aren’t also managing the books, but on farms they do.
With current economic conditions, farm employee managers must also manage the burdens of tight budgets. While your employees don’t usually see your milk check, they know when things are getting tight. Social media does a good job of sharing this today.
Being honest with them that margins are thin helps them understand what is going on. When equipment they use that should have been replaced a few months ago is being welded weekly to keep going, they notice this, and it frustrates them.
What to share
Understanding the cycles of farming can help them though. Now, sharing doesn’t mean burdening them with all the realities, like that their paycheck may be coming from an operating loan. When talking with employees, compliment them on how they improve your operation, correct them when they make mistakes, but make sure they are not cutting a corner they saw you cut to get more done in a day.
Show your employees you care about them and your farm. While you know you have a passion for your farm, that passion may not shine through like you think it does after long tiring days.
This includes bringing a smile to work.
These are just as contagious today as they were five years ago and can make everyone’s day go smoother. This is just the first step to employee retention, which is even more important when unemployment is low and your business margins are tight, probably not allowing you to offer salaries competitive with factory jobs.
Invest in employees
We often invest in new equipment to make our business better, but how often have you invested in your employees to make them better? Sending employees to conferences and trainings both invests in your business and makes your employees feel more important.
This may be an option to improve employee morale without giving employees direct raises. Another important option is to help your employees and yourself maintain a positive work-life balance so that no one ends up burned out.
In reality, if you give an employee a raise to keep them, you already lost them. Their foot was out the door once, sure they stayed, but their passion is no longer there; they just stayed for the money.
Looking at and investing in your employees as an asset instead of a liability can greatly improve your bottom line in the long run.
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