Producers retain employees by being good employers. In this column, I will share some thoughts from producers, who I feel are very good employers, along with my observations of why these producers have retained their best employees. I frequent nearly 30 dairies in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and I have the opportunity to observe and learn from some very good employers.

Be like a parent
A good employer is much like a good parent. He or she needs to possess integrity, discipline, proficiency, and he or she needs to have a keen insight into his or her employees and their needs.

If an employer is good at what he or she does, I would label him or her as proficient. When employees see their boss being successful, that inspires confidence, which is one of the building blocks of trust. Good employers know what they want in employees and help cultivate the traits they desire. For example, Chris W. knows his dairy’s procedures very well, so he has decided that he alone will train employees in milking procedure. Know what you want, and be confident that your vision is right for your farm.

Be like a teacher
A proficient employer is also much like a good teacher. Remember that training will take considerably longer with employees who don’t speak English, if you don’t have someone on staff who speaks their language. Training should take place in their native language to assure better comprehension.

Teachers don’t expect students to master a skill in one class period, and you shouldn’t either. Show, discuss, practice with supervision, discuss, show again and then let them attempt the skill or task alone.


Finally, discuss and evaluate their performance. This also means you should be present frequently to help and to answer questions as they come up. Too many employers tell someone to do something without explaining why and without really teaching the employee. Employees want to have an employer who is there working alongside them, helping and mentoring.

Discipline means sticking to what you say. Employees want to have an employer that they respect. Set your policies carefully, and choose logical consequences that you can and are willing to keep.

For example, there was a problem in John’s farm housing with employees’ overnight guests bothering the other employees. John set the policy (without being angry, which is crucial) that if the unacceptable behavior continued, the violator would need to choose another job. The employees knew that John would enforce that rule, and without ceremony, the violator chose to find a new job. Note the choice here was the employee’s. John did not fire the employee.

Foster job security
Possibly one of the most important things to an employee is to be confident he or she will have steady employment. This means the absence of fear of being fired. Though it seems counter-intuitive, this fear is a big hindrance to higher job performance. Most people perform worse under threat. You might get better results at the beginning, but if an employee frequently hears the threat of firing, he or she begins to resent the employer and will not perform as well. John´s farm has a no-fire policy.

When there is a problem, John assumes part of the problem lies with him. He needs to talk to and retrain the employee until the skill or task is understood and performed correctly. The results of this are apparent. John’s farm has very high-quality milk, is profitable and has a waiting list of job applicants, even though he pays no more than other employers.

Empowering is much more effective than threats. This leads to integrity. When something goes wrong, it is very important to look equally within yourself and to others for causes and solutions. It is much easier to blame others than to look first at what you may have contributed to the situation.

Integrity means leading rather than ruling. If you rule, you can tell others what to do regardless of your actions. If you lead, you need to apply the same standards to yourself that you do to your employees. How can you blame someone who takes home something from work if you have ever cooked the books?

Integrity means having compassion and understanding when appropriate. It means caring about your employees more than just what they represent to your productivity.

Fill their needs
Finally, a good employer needs to understand his employees and their needs. They fill your need so your farm will be successful. You have a responsibility to them, more than just a paycheck. You have a responsibility to provide them with an environment that fosters job security and to help them realize their potential.

Marty helped Margarito earn a certificate as a basic dairy worker through the Mexican government. Margarito doesn’t read. When Margarito learned that he had earned this certificate and had passed the test (due, in part, to Marty’s training), I saw the joy and pride beaming through his tear-filled eyes. Today, almost three years later, he is one of Marty’s most trusted and valued employees. Marty has given Margarito more responsibility, and now he is almost completely in charge of calf feeding. Best of all, Marty and Margarito both rely on each other. Marty knows if he asks Margarito to do something, it will be done. That’s mutual respect and trust. We all want that.

Employees need and deserve employers who possess and embody the characteristics I have described. We all want and need a paycheck, but there is so much more to this relationship. Dare to try it. PD