Whether it’s checking and changing oil, regular greasing or checking bearings and bushings, ag producers know that a small investment of time can save thousands of dollars and countless hours by preventing mechanical malfunctions. And what’s true for machinery is also true for people, according to Kansas State University (KSU) animal scientist Chris Reinhardt.

“This tested and proven truism of heavy machinery is an excellent analogy for maintaining workplace relationships and morale,” says Reinhardt, a KSU Extension feedlot specialist. “Like mechanical devices, people need fuel, people need rest and people sometimes wear out. In order to ensure that people are rested and refueled for the upcoming season, it is critical that managers monitor the well-being of the people in their charge, and perhaps even insist that people take time off.”

Without rest, Reinhardt says, friction can result between team members and can result in increased sick days, or even an increase in accidents due to frustration and fatigue.

“Managing people often requires uncanny observation of people’s behavior and the circumstances surrounding it. Be proactive about investigating people’s attitudes, inter-relationships, stress level, energy level and their need for time off,” he says.

Letting employees know they’re valued is an important part of helping your employees.

The ag workplace can be grinding, he says, especially at certain times: calving, spring planting, fall harvest, weaning, repeat. If all that mattered to employers or employees was the ability to do a single task, they would have left long ago. Certainly, we value time management and efficiency, but what about loyalty, work ethic and teamwork?

“Most likely your personal employee of this month is the person who will stay a few minutes longer to make sure the widget is welded securely, greases the zerks one more time, or volunteers to walk the weaned calves looking for sick ones so someone else can go to Junior’s ballgame this weekend,” he says.

Everyone has a different tolerance for recognition, but most like to know that they are truly appreciated, maybe publicly like the “Employee of the Month” plaque, or just one-on-one, when no one else is around, Reinhardt says.

“All your people likely have something special to offer; your job as a manager is to determine the best way to regularly acknowledge their contributions,” he says. “If not, your silence may speak volumes to the contrary.”

More of Reinhardt’s agricultural workforce tips are available at www.asi.k-state.edu. Click on Research and Extension, and any of the Current Extension Newsletters. Additional employee management resources are available at www.cnr.berkeley.edu/ucce50/ag-labor/.

Burt Rutherford