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Running a feedyard is stressful. But stress can be managed, even in the toughest of times.
Setting the example
Training and coaching employees, not just in how to do their job but how to handle their job, is important, says Thomas Sewell, transportation manager for Hitch Enterprises in Guymon, OK. A well-trained employee has the skills and confidence to do the job well. When that’s reinforced with praise when deserved, and constructive criticism when needed, managers can reduce workplace stress.
For Sewell, that begins at the top. “I try not to put too much pressure on myself, because my stress goes on to the employees.” He accomplishes that by not taking workplace events personally. “Just stay calm. Try not to worry about the small things and just deal with it. You can only get so much done during a day.”
But, sometimes things get in the way of that approach. “Then you’ve just got to back off a bit and accept that these things happen. Deal with it and go on,” Sewell adds.
He coaches his employees to handle stress the same way. They’re dealing with animals that can be unpredictable, and trucks and equipment that can break down. “Problems arise that are unexpected, and having to deal with it at all hours of the day – that’s probably the most stressful,” he says.
“So basically, I tell them to deal with their stress the same way I deal with it – there’s only so much we can do. These problems arise and we’ll deal with it.”
However, he thinks one of the best stress-relieving techniques he uses with his employees is to treat them as adults and show them the respect they deserve.
“If I respect them, they won’t stress out near as bad. Praise them whenever they deserve praise; that lets them know they’re doing a good job so they won’t be stressed whenever they’re trying to perform. Challenge them and criticize them, but make it helpful criticism so they learn from it,” Sewell says.
That modeling is critical, Roden-berg adds. “You can use good techniques to hire folks, and you can train them. But if leadership and upper management aren’t modeling it, it’s absolutely worthless.”
When she works with a feedyard, she starts with the owners and manager. “Because if they’re not going to use stress-management techniques, how in the world can they expect anyone they supervise or manage to use them?”
Rodenberg says she only makes two guarantees when counseling feedyards – “If you talk about it, it will get better. If you don’t talk about it, I guarantee it will get worse.”
To that end, she says, the most important stress management tool is to not stuff it inside. That eventually leads to health problems like heart disease and high blood pressure, and will ultimately come out in a vesuvian event that will solve nothing and create much, all of it bad.
And look inward. “We bring a lot of stress on ourselves. We’re quick to point our finger and say: ‘It’s because they work me too hard, because I don’t have enough equipment, because we’re short-handed.’ But I believe a lot of our stress is self-induced. So we have to look at ourselves and ask if we’re expecting too much of ourselves.”