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How healthy is the employment situation on your farm?

Chuck Schwartau
Regional Extension Educator

February 9, 2013

A lot of attention is paid to the health of cattle on the farm. Those raising their own feed pay attention to the health of crops in the field. Some dairy farmers even pay attention to their own health (more should!). But how many pay much attention to the health of the relationship between owner/managers and the employees? I'm betting that is pretty far down on the list of health items watched very carefully.

A number of organizations in the New Zealand dairy industry utilized an Employment Health Assessment developed by Dairy InSight to help farmers examine their own labor situations and start the discussion about how they can be better employers. I think a few of the items are worth your time to evaluate on your own farm. Score yourself on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being a low score and 10 being a high score. Compare where your farm scores now, and where you would like it to be in a "closer to ideal situation".

Do you have the right people in the right jobs?

Just because someone likes doing a particular job on the farm doesn't mean that is what they should be doing. Perhaps their value to the business lies in another higher value task needing greater skills or their management ability.

Do people on your farm know what they should be doing and how they should be doing it?

Workers need clear direction on what you expect of them. Don't assume that because someone milked or fed cows on another farm, they automatically know how to do it on your farm. Your expectations may be vastly different from another employer's expectations.

Do you employees understand how their job contributes to the success of the entire farm?

People need to know their work makes a difference and that it is important. A dairy farm is a collection of many different tasks that contribute to a dairy farm system. If one thing isn't working or isn't done correctly, it can impact the work of many others on the farm.

Are employees on your farm satisfied with their working hours and time off?

Many farms today are 24-hour operations, meaning some people will always have less desirable working hours. How do you accommodate personal needs for special occasions and offer some flexibility for the employees? Your first concern is that the tasks are done appropriately, and if the staff can work together, helping each other out on schedules, they will be happier and you can be satisfied.

How are physical working conditions on your farm?

A farm is still a farm with mud, manure, flies, sometimes uncooperative animals, long working hours, and the need to work through all kinds of weather. Having recognized that, what do you do on the farm to make conditions a little better? Do you have a clean, comfortable place for employees to eat? Are there lockers and showers so they can clean up before going home? Is machinery in good condition and ready to work when needed? Are necessary tools and supplies readily available? Is your facility designed and built to handle the jobs you asking to be done?

Factors that make the work more difficult than it needs to be, or prevent the work from being done efficiently, affect the attitudes of the workforce and the desire to work efficiently.

Do you model a balance between work and personal life and do you encourage the same in your workforce?

Some people are 'driven' to work and do little else in their lives. This might lead to a profitable and successful business, but it can just as easily lead to a dysfunctional business where everything else is sacrificed to the point that people 'burn out' and lose the desire to work. A mind needs some rest and renewal, just as a body does.

Developing a balance in life of work and personal activity gives the mind a rest that helps it function better when it returns to the job. Although a total break from the farm business is a good idea from time to time. Even a working vacation utilizing time away to visit other farms or for agricultural activity can be helpful if you leave the routine behind and give yourself permission to let someone else handle the day-to-day management of the farm for a few days. Not only does this help you and employees, but it keeps one engaged with the families for whom they are really working anyway.

These are just a few of the items that can affect the attitudes of the workforce and, therefore, the effectiveness of the work. Look at the working health on your farm. Give it at least an annual physical.

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