You can pay for employees’ time, but how do you really motivate them?


I can’t believe how fast the summer of 2014 is passing. It won’t be long before corn silage harvest begins and each of us will have more on our plates as we rush to get our harvest completed while juggling the daily dairy chores. Operating a highly competitive dairy requires the talents of many people, especially when field and dairy operations are being conducted simultaneously.

Remember employees

As we juggle the many hats that running a dairy operation requires, don’t shelve personnel management. Competitive operations understand that personnel management is a major key to profitability. Personnel managers should take time to examine the five functions of management (planning, organizing, staffing, directing and controlling).

Make a plan

They also need to develop a human resource plan that is consistent with the farm’s mission and goals. This plan will serve as a guide as employees are hired, trained, and managed. It is no secret that motivated employees are often more productive. Dr. Bernie Erven, OSU professor emeritus, has 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.”

Motivation is key

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. Surprisingly, good wages only ranked fifth. Bottom line, you won’t know what motivates your employees until you ask. Are you taking the time to ask?

Time well spent

I would encourage you to take some time to think about the ways you can enhance the motivation and productivity of your employees. Are job duties and expectations clearly defined? Do I need to develop an employee handbook? Is coaching and instruction given at opportune times? Do we hold employee meetings? How can I increase the skills of my employees? Do I personally thank staff for a job well done? In what ways can I improve the working environment for my employees? In what areas would I like my employees to improve and how can I help them improve? How can I remove employee dis-satisfiers such as unsafe equipment, unreasonable rules and policies, and conflict with co-workers? How can I encourage and reward initiative and new ideas?

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).

You’re not alone

Your local Extension educator can help assist you as you develop an employee management plan. The 15 Measures of Dairy Farm Competitiveness bulletin also provides tips on how you can increase your competitiveness. It is available both online and as a for-sale publication. The full-color, 50 page publications can be ordered through your local Extension office or can be accessed on-line at

Good luck as you prepare for the fall harvest and remember to keep employee management as a top priority. The investment that you put in to your employees today will reward you in the future.

(David Marrison is assistant professor and Extension Educator, Agriculture & Natural Resources, Ohio State University Extension, Ashtabula County. He can be reached at 440-576-9008 or

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