Farm employees need to be properly compensated monetarily for their work. But farmers may overlook the importance of "mental wages," those intangible perks like providing a positive work environment, offering at pat on the back or listening to an employee's ideas about how the operation can be improved.
At a University of Nebraska Extension crop production clinic held in Norfolk recently, UNL Extension educator Tim Lemmons told a group of farmers that it is all about communication. "Employees appreciate respect and recognition, and they like an employer who communicates with employees," he said. "Employers should never hold back praise."
Farm employers should always provide positive feedback to their employees on key tasks they have accomplished. Lemmons said that often a single pat on the back for a job well done is worth more to an employee than anything. They want to feel rewarded and appreciated in their work. Something as simple as a good job title provides additional credibility and recognition, he said.
Family or non-family employees alike appreciate it when employers are working dirty jobs alongside them, not being afraid to pitch in when needed. Employers should also rely on the expertise of employees who are working on the front lines, Lemmons said.
"People closest to a problem are generally better equipped to solve it."
He encouraged employers to use the word "we" instead of "I." By using terms that imply a working team on the farm, employers provide employees with a sense of belonging. They are more liable to take some ownership in farm projects if they feel they are part of that team.
"If you give someone a task, make sure they understand the task," Lemmons said. Farm employers need to exhibit patience, and provide employees with supervision and a set of clear expectations about their duties.
"Be an active listener," he said. It's a good idea for employers to give employees an opportunity to explain their own long term goals in life, and to make an effort to understand an employee's values. "Know what rewards certain employees will value," said Lemmons. Not all workers respond the same to public recognition, so some employees may appreciate a private acknowledgement more.
Farm employers and workers may suffer from an intergenerational communication gap at times, so employers may have to individualize their efforts in communicating with young employees. But those efforts will usually be rewarded by workers who are happier in their jobs and who work harder because of it.
If you'd like more information about how to improve labor relations on the farm, contact Tim Lemmons at 402-370-4061.