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Engaging on-farm employees can help get protocols implemented accurately and even help practice profitability.
Creating a positive workplace culture at each farm is not a responsibility that rests solely on a veterinarian’s shoulders, Dr. Firkins notes. However, the overall relevance of each employee is necessary before they can feel a connection to their daily actions, whether those are monitoring animals for illness or administering antibiotics.
The overall effect of a focus on employee engagement can be tremendous, Dr. Firkins says. He has seen a reduction in employee turnover and increase in compliance, which can result in improved animal health and profitability.
Don’t guess whether employees are engaged—make sure to ask them, notes Sarah Probst Miller, DVM, President and Creative Director for AgCreate Solutions, Inc.
In a research project as part of the University of Illinois Executive Veterinary Program, Dr. Probst Miller was one of four veterinarians who surveyed swine operations on employee levels of engagement. The survey found operations with good employee engagement had significantly improved production and produced more pigs per sow per year than other operations.
“Increasing engagement on-farm became a doorway through which I could be more impactful with other recommendations,” she says. “I do believe in the ag industry we have great jobs that can be great careers, but we have to let people know where they are going and what their path is.”
Dr. Probst Miller used the Gallup’s Q12® employee engagement survey to assess farms and help figure out what they can do to improve engagement. One of the questions in the survey asks employees if they have everything they need to do their job.
“We sure hope everyone has what they need, but we don’t know that for sure unless we ask,” she says. “This was true with other areas important to employee engagement as well. Once we figured out which engagement element needed improvement, we were able to work on it to get better. It takes people to make pigs. Unless you can figure out how to impact the people, there’s no vaccine or treatment that’s going to impact the pigs. If you don’t have engaged employees, you might be fighting a losing battle.”
At the time of her survey and work in the Executive Veterinary Program, Dr. Probst Miller was working with independent Midwestern hog operations. She found clients receptive to exploring improvements in employee engagement in addition to the veterinary expertise she provided.
The results of increasing efforts in engagement can be measurable for any business, inside or outside of agriculture. In general, businesses that increase employee engagement can see a reduction in absenteeism, fewer work related accidents and more profitability.
Creating engagement is not simply related to larger salaries. Dr. Probst Miller notes the benefit to an employer of an increased salary is often equivalent to a specific and sincere expression of praise. Not just a routine “thank you” to a group, but a tailored message to an individual.
This expression demonstrates to the employee their good work was noticed, and all it costs is a little time and effort.
“People are similar in their desire to be fairly compensated,” Dr. Firkins says. “It doesn’t have to be a literal pat on the back, but did the boss notice if I’ve been asked to change my behavior and did so? All people may not get to the excellence level, but if they start making changes and I ignore that, those changes aren’t going to last. Simple acknowledgement, a thank you, doesn’t cost us a thing.”
Acknowledgement is important to consider as employers hire more members of Generation Y, which is accustomed to continual interaction and feedback. Dr. Firkins notes there is a misconception this generation only wants praise, but that hasn’t been his experience. Younger employees want to know how they can improve.
“I may have been raised that if you don’t hear anything, assume you’re doing fine,” he says. “The current generation is used to more continuous feedback. With the younger generation, if we can focus on improving their knowledge base and make sure they have the tools, we can reduce the level of frustration. The newer generation responds well to mentoring.”