If you must work the holidays, keep the workplace festive

(Farm and Dairy file photo)

Hello Northeast Ohio Dairy Farmers! It has been an incredibly mild December, which I know many of our farmers are very happy for.

After all, life on the farm does not stop because winter arrives. Milder weather usually makes everything operate a lot smoother. It is during this time of year that I like to pause and reflect on the dedication of our farm families; especially our dairy farms.

There are no breaks for dairy families. They are a 24/7/365 day business. Whether it is a freezing cold winter day or a national holiday, the cows still have to be cared for, milked and fed.

The holidays can be tricky for dairy families as they try to balance family time with cow time. And this can cause stress; especially when deciding who will do chores on Christmas morning when the kids are waking up to check their stockings.

Our family was lucky as Santa always arrived while we were at church on Christmas Eve, so we could open our gifts before bed time. This allowed dad to milk on Christmas morning under no pressure from his anxious kids.

The other day, I ran across an article from my friend and colleague, Phil Durst, from Michigan State University. He has some great pointers on how owners can make the holidays special for both themselves and for farm employees.

Of course each farm is different and the approach that works on one farm may not apply to another, but there are some principles that apply across farms.

Here are Phil’s suggestions:

Plan ahead

Inventory needs well in advance so that supplies of bedding, bagged minerals, towels or anything else will not run out during the holidays.

Schedule routine work, such as vet checks and hoof trimming, away from the holidays as much as possible, and work ahead on what can be done ahead.

Treat all employees fairly

In general, people are willing to sacrifice if they feel that everyone shares equally in sacrifices. Also, ask employees about their time-off needs. Some employees may prefer to have off Christmas Eve, whereas others may prefer to have off New Year’s Day.

Find out their preferences in advance and work with that as much as possible.

Employees also need to know that their boss shares in the sacrifice as well. Make employees who work feel appreciated and noticed.

Employees will bear with much if they feel that they are truly appreciated and noticed.

On Christmas, farm owners may have three shifts of employees working. Greeting all employees on this day is important, especially the night crew. Each person who comes to work that day has a need to be recognized for being there on Christmas.

Help employees embrace the greater goal

Why are they there on Christmas? They are there to make sure that when moms go to the grocery store the next day, that milk is in the dairy case and yogurt cups are on the shelves.

They are there to ensure that hospitals and schools have milk for patients and children. They are there to provide continuous care of cows and keep them healthy.

Give employees a vision to hold onto when things are not going well, and when they miss the opportunity to be home.

Make the day special in some ways. Don’t ignore the fact that it is Christmas (or some other special day), or pretend that it is just like any other day.

Celebrate it even in the workplace. Maybe it is by tying bows to pipes in the parlor, having a card for each employee at their locker, or by writing “Merry Christmas” on the whiteboard.

Find some way to recognize each special day when employees work, even if it is a holiday with which you are unfamiliar.

Create a festive atmosphere

Take the opportunity to celebrate together. Maybe it is breakfast for the morning shift, lunch for the afternoon shift and cookies and eggnog for the night shift.

Consider rewarding employees for their sacrifice. Some employers offer bonus wages for working special days. That may not be your first choice of action since employees don’t make the business more money on that day than any other.

However, it may be necessary to pay bonus wages to get work done on special days. I hope each of you think of how you can make the holiday season special on your farm.

I would like to end today’s column with a quote from Calvin Coolidge, who stated, “Christmas is not a time nor a season, but a state of mind. To cherish peace and goodwill, to be plenteous in mercy, is to have the real spirit of Christmas.”

Have a good Christmas and holiday season!


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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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