How engaged are your employees?

Engaged employees are more productive. But what can you do to get your employees more engaged?

Engagement is the term now being used to define the commitment of employees. In his presentation at the Michigan State University (MSU) Dairy Team Labor Management Conference in February 2012, Charles Contreras of Pfizer’s PeopleFirst used a definition of engagement as “a connection between an employer and employee which results in that employee giving voluntary effort.”

Others have said that an engaged employee is one who is fully involved in, and enthusiastic about their work and thus will act in a way that furthers their organization's interests. That sounds exactly like the kind of employee we want, yet many employers would say they are rare.

Often, when I talk with dairy producers, I hear them complain and blame the poor quality of employees available these days. Sure, there are differences in people interested in doing farm work, but there is also responsibility to be borne by the manager in encouraging the kind of engagement that benefits his or her business. It is really a partnership of responsibility and a partnership of effort that hinges on a partnership of communication.

In fact, we all recognize that good communication is critical for effective teamwork on the farm or in any business. Not only do we recognize that, but we often say that it is a priority for us. And yet, it is still a problem area for many.

We tend to assume that others understand what we want. We think that they give the same urgency to tasks as we will. We believe that they will have the same standards for how the job gets done that we have. But over and over, we find out that our assumptions aren’t the case.

You probably aren’t the only one with questions and misconceptions. Many employees don’t know much of the business of the farm, what your goals are as an owner or how they are doing compared to your expectations. The primary reason they don’t know it is because many owners don’t do a good job sharing that information.

That’s where many owners get stuck. They recognize the importance of good communication and engaged employees, but aren’t sure how to go about it.

Maybe we can help. Michigan State University Extension is initiating a project to improve communication on the farm. This project is supported with funding provided by the North Central Center for Risk Management Education and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). This project, coordinated by MSU Extension Dairy Educators, Phil Durst and Stan Moore will be available to dairy producers who contract for the program. In addition, these Educators are working with Felix Soriano, owner and consultant of Ag Personnel and Nutrition (APN) Consulting, LLC who works with dairy producers on the eastern coast of the United States.

To participate, a dairy must have at least five employees. The project personnel will meet with the owner and evaluate his or her perception of employee satisfaction and engagement. A survey has been developed for the farm’s employees to take via phone interview, either in English or in Spanish. A summary of those responses will be prepared and the project personnel will sit down with the owners to review this and determine what can be done to improve communication and engagement on the farm.

In order for this to be successful, employees must feel supported in calling and that their responses are completely anonymous. In fact, the name of the employee will not even be asked. No identifying information will be revealed.

Dairy producers in Michigan and the eastern United States are invited to participate in this project. If you are interested in learning more about this, contact any of the project leaders:

Improvement is possible but it begins with increased knowledge. This project can help you change employee management based on understanding what your employees are thinking.

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