The Missing Piece in Farm Operations

The Missing Piece in Most Farm Operations

Tiffany Bailey

The concept that is about to be discussed has the potential to significantly impact the efficiency of your farm, your employee turnover and your bottom line. It’s not a new type of equipment or a revolutionary new input for your crops. And it won’t cost you penny. What we are talking about is employee engagement.

Countless studies show that increasing employee engagement results in increased labor efficiencies, higher employee retention rates and a healthier bottom line. A recent Gallup study (news. gallup.com/businessjournal/ 191831/engaged-workplaces-safer-employees.aspx) showed that companies with high employee engagement have 70% fewer safety incidents compared to companies with low employee engagement.

So if we know that the benefits of increasing employee engagement are real, why do we hear so little about it in the world of agriculture? And if we want to make employee engagement a priority, how do we tangibly go about doing that?

There are many reasons why we may choose to not make employee engagement a priority. A common reason is that we are busy. Especially on farms, there is always work to do. And the type of work that it takes to increase employee engagement doesn’t provide the immediate results we enjoy seeing from our hard work such as a flush of growth after a healthy application of nutrients or a knock- down of problematic pests. But if you want the benefits of employee engagement, you have to put in the time.

So how do we do this engagement thing? In the New York Times best-selling book The Truth About Employee Engagement, author Patrick Lencioni lists the three most common reasons that employees are disengaged in their work. Below is a list of these three problems along with suggested solutions.

Problem #1: Employees are not known as people. This occurs when owners and supervisors fail to get to knowand understand employees as individuals.

Solution: The solution to this problem is painfully easy, yet so underutilized. Leaders must take genuine, personal interest in their employees. Take the time to sit down with employees and ask them what’s going on in their lives. It’s one thing to ask an employee how their job is going. It’s another thing entirely to ask how Friday’s Little League game went.

Problem #2: Employees don’t know how their job matters. People not only need money; they need meaning. Human beings are wired to be needed. When people do not have sight of their impact, they begin to disengage in their work slowly but surely.

Solution: To establish relevance in their job, employees must be able to answer two questions: 1) Who am I helping, and 2) How am I helping? Be careful when answering these questions.  If the person the employee is helping is too far from the employee, the impact may feel meaningless.  It’s difficult for a harvester to connect with the family they are helping feed if that family is unknown and they live across the country.  That harvester is much more likely to feel they have impact if they understand that they’re helping their supervisor succeed, especially when that supervisor cares about them.

Problem #3: Employees can’t measure progress and contribution.This occurs when an employee has no real means of assessing his or her progress or success on the job. Employees in this situation are then left with a feeling of dependence on a manager to subjectively judge their performance. Great employees don’t want their success to depend on subjective views or opinions.

Solution: The key to establishing effective measures lies in identifying the areas that an employee can directly influence and then providing a specific measurement that is connected to the person or people they are meant to serve. It is crucial to link this measurement to the area the employee impacts. Once a leader understands these problems and solutions, the real work can begin.

Employee  engagement is not a task you cross off your to-do list, and it’s not an event you can just put in your calendar once a year. This type of work starts with a decision that must come from within. It’s a decision that says you are willing to do real work to provide people with more than a paycheck.

Tiffany Bailey owns Honeyside Farms and Bayside Sod in Parrish, Florida. This article originally appeared in the September 2021 issue of Vegetable and Specialty Crop News.  Reproduced by permission.