Dairy Excel: Rainy day management challenge


It’s a great time to think about employee motivation.

Dark, rainy, muddy days make for long work days around the farm. As we all wait for the skies to clear and the sun to come back, it is natural to begin feeling frustrated, stressed out and just down right negative.

I would challenge farm managers to spend some time thinking about and implementing some new or revised management practices that will help improve employee motivation and encourage a more positive feeling throughout the farm and the family.

How do you know what motivates your employees to come to work every day? How do you continue to motivate employees for the long term? These are the two big questions you must find answers to, as the farm manager.

In order to begin uncovering these answers, sit down with your employees and ask them what is important to them. This can be done by having a conversation or by providing a simple list and asking employees to rank the following items from most important to least important to them.

Important list

The list might include: Fair pay and benefits; job security; opportunity for advancement; being a part of the team; safe working conditions; ability to make decisions; appreciation of work done and effort given; work that is interesting and challenging; and recognition for new ideas and successful implementation.

Employee ranking of these items may surprise you. Use your employee rankings as a way to start a conversation about what employees would like to see in the future.

Are there ways to improve working conditions or maybe improving communication could help all employees feel more a part of the team. Money is a motivating factor to work for everyone, but once that need is met with fair wages, employees typically prioritize other items on this list as more important than money.

So the question remains, what is it that motivates an employee to do his/her best to make sure your animals are well cared for and the farm is efficient and profitable?

Three points

Three points to think about according to a 2005 study by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researches are: autonomy, mastery and purpose.

Employees value the ability to make decisions on their own and this is also a valuable tool for the employer. Employees that can make decisions without checking in with their supervisors all the time are more efficient. This concept ties together with mastery of specific skills very well.

As employees are given opportunities to develop their skills, the next natural step is for the manager is to empower them to use their skills to make decisions on their own that will benefit the farm operation.

A purpose

Purpose can be a strong motivator for employees at any job. We all want to know why we have to do specific tasks and does it really matter? It is important for employees to know the farm’s mission and buy into that concept.

Once employees understand working toward the mission, help them see how each chore or decision they make affects the overall ability of the farm to reach its mission.

For example, if proper milking protocols are not being followed, share the affect that it has on milk production and udder health. Help employees, especially new employees, understand how the little things fit together to impact the bottom line.

Also remember the bigger picture as well, the production of a safe and healthy product for our family, friends and other consumers. These explanations will help employees be more connected to their work and feel like even the little jobs have a grander purpose.

Not the same

It is also important to remember not everyone is motivated by exactly the same thing. Knowing what makes your employees tick is an important part of motivation. As you communicate with your employees, you may learn that you are already providing positive motivation and only small changes will need to be made here or there.

These changes, although many times very simple or inexpensive, can provide a big return for the farm. Whether the result is keeping employees longer or improved performance, both will mean a more efficient and profitable farm.

Involving employees in the team and asking for their ideas will also help provide motivation. Feelings of involvement and appreciation are strong motivation for employees to make sure they do their best and show up for work, even on rainy, muddy days.

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


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