A John Deere Publication
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Paying competitive wages is essential for recruiting new farm workers but money alone won't keep them happy. Younger workers especially want to know their work is appreciated, that it matters, and their employer notices when they've gone the extra mile. A sincere thank you at the end of an 18-hour shift will make a worker's day.

Agriculture, Farm Operation   April 01, 2024


Show 'Em Your Appreciation

Thank your workers when they go the extra mile for you.

by Lorne McClinton

Farm workers aren't throw-away commodities anymore. These days having anyone with a pulse respond to your farm's help wanted ad feels like a victory, recruiting someone with experience and a good attitude is like winning the lottery. The last thing you want is for them to walk out the door because they feel they're just a cog in the wheel.

Chester Elton, co-author of "Leading with Gratitude," "The Carrot Principle," and many other books on culture and leadership, says offering a competitive compensation package is just table stakes to attract workers to your farm. People expect to be compensated, but at the end of the day wages and bonuses alone won't keep them happy. If you want an employee to stick around, you need to show gratitude. Let them know that what they are doing matters and they're appreciated.

"Why would I choose you over some other farm given that the wages are the same?" Elton asks. "It all has to do with the workplace environment. Having an opportunity to learn new skills and having room to grow are key considerations for retaining younger workers. So, I might choose Farmer A over Farmer B because not only will Farmer A let me do what I'm trained to do, I might have the opportunity to actually learn to do something new and become something more. I'm building a career and I'm building leadership skills that I might not get somewhere else. (Plus) it'll be more emotionally and intellectually rewarding."

Research shows that if you want to have productive, highly engaged and loyal employees, the employer has to foster a culture where employees believe they are valued, what they do matters, and whatever they are doing is making a difference. Elton says it's important to implement a workplace environment where we see each other, we hear each other, we value each other, and we thank each other.

Good employers should recognize and celebrate good behavior if they want their employees to repeat it. This doesn't need to cost a lot of money, a simple heartfelt thank you when an employee goes the extra mile for you goes a long way, Elton says. A good thank you must happen right away, it's specific, sincere, and should occur frequently.

"Do it now, don't put it off thinking you can do it later because you'll forget," Elton says. "The closer the thank you is to the behavior (you're thanking them for) the more likely it is to be repeated. Praise has to both be earned and be for something specific that matters," Elton says. "If you just go around saying thank you, thank you all the time, for no reason, it has no meaning. Specific praise is very valuable. It communicates I know what your job is, I know what a good job you've done, and when I see it, I want to make sure I reinforce it. Because here's the thing you know for sure, rewarded behavior is repeated."

Farmers are very inventive at coming up with non-monetary rewards to keep employees happy. Some give out the odd free tank of fuel, others offer the occasional loan of a company truck, still others let employees keep a few cattle or farm a few acres using company equipment. Free meat, free produce, use of a garden space, and free housing are also commonly offered incentives.

But a pat on the back is the cheapest and easiest thing an employer can do to maintain employee morale. It only takes a moment to walk up to an employee at the end of an 18-hour day and say, 'What a shift. I really want to thank you; we wouldn't have made it through without you.' They'll light up right in front of you when they see you noticed their extra effort.

Big stretch. But giving an employee (or a family member) a verbal thank you for a job well done is a big stretch for many in agriculture. Lots, if not most, farmers never received much praise when they did a good job growing up, so giving it to workers who went the extra mile isn't an automatic natural reaction. It's something most will need to train themselves to do.

"Be kind, good guys finish first," Elton says. "Good guys get people to come back again and again to work for them. And it's so interesting when it comes to gratitude, it's often not the big thing, the big celebration, the big anniversary, it's those little moments that make a difference. Good leaders create good minutes. That guy that put in an 18-hour shift who's exhausted doesn't need a red carpet, he just wants to know that you noticed. Create that good minute." ‡

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