The following article is the fifth in a series of articles summarizing the “Supervisory Skills for Managers” DVD collection produced by Jim Henion. The series provides helpful management hints for owners and managers working with employees on dairy operations.
One trend we see as farms become larger is the need to utilize more outside workers. This results in increased employment of people from other countries. When a farm employs immigrants who speak a different language and are thousands of miles away from their homes and families, the dairy experiences some unique challenges. Understanding why immigrants come to the U.S. to work, showing interest in their language and culture and clearly communicating job descriptions and performance expectations may help in overcoming many of the challenges.
Why would anyone leave their native country to come work on your farm?
Terry Batchelder is a dairy production management and training specialist with Cargill Animal Nutrition. He is fluent in Spanish and works with dairy producers and their immigrant employees in the Northeast. When discussing immigrant employees, Batchelder shared what he believes motivates people to come to the U.S. to work on farms.
“Most immigrants don’t really want to leave their homes and families, but they do so because of the opportunities they have to earn a living and make a better life,” Batchelder says.
Dr. Richard Stup, a senior extension associate at Penn State University, adds, “A person from rural Mexico can make many times more money per hour working here in the U.S. than they could back home.”
Leaving one’s home and country has never been easy. However, the opportunity for a better life results in highly motivated people who desire to do a great job on your farm.
Lamar Anthony of Anthony’s Dairy in Americus, Georgia, comments, “I think people who leave their country to go to another country to work are highly motivated individuals. The immigrants who work for us are very motivated. They want to do the job right and be appreciated.”
Dr. Stup concludes, “Immigrants have a strong work ethic. They want to succeed. If we give them the opportunity and show them how to succeed, they will because they want to be successful for themselves and their families. They also want to please you, the employer.”
The language factor
When people from another culture join your staff but speak little or no English, adjustments need to be made by both managers and employees. For most farms that employ immigrant workers today, Spanish is the most frequently spoken language among workers.
Owners and managers offered three suggestions in addressing the language barrier. First, you and your staff can learn enough Spanish so you can converse. Second, you can help your immigrant employees learn English. And finally, you can try and achieve a mix of the two supplemented by interpreters.
Looking closer at the suggestion for farm managers to learn Spanish, Stup offers this opinion: “I feel if you have committed to utilizing a Hispanic workforce, then you and your supervisors need to commit to learning Spanish.”
Batchelder adds, “If you want to earn the respect of your immigrant workers, learn to communicate in their language.”
Anthony tells us, “My employees know I want to learn their language, and they work with me. They speak Spanish to me, and I think the fact I’m trying to learn their language means a lot to them.”
Another benefit of making the effort to learn your employees’ native language is that they may be more willing to learn your language.
Stup comments, “When you are willing to go ahead, make mistakes and struggle with the difficulties of learning a language, this shows the Spanish speakers you’re willing to reach out and try to learn. This makes them much more willing to make mistakes and try to learn English. I think this stems from showing respect for one another.”
Another consideration when employing immigrants is referred to as ‘cultural differences.’ When working with employees of Hispanic origin, one cultural issue is the impact of the extended family.
Marie Nye of Mountain View Dairy in Delta, Utah, observes, “Family is very important to our immigrant workers. It’s not just husband, wife and children; the whole extended family back home is very, very important.”
Stup comments, “Those of us in the North American culture say, ‘My family’s important to me, too.’ Of course, family is important in all cultures. The difference, I think, comes in the extended family with cousins, uncles and so forth.”
A predictable outcome of a culture with close ties to a large, extended family is the need for workers to return home for weeks, and sometimes months, to provide support for family members. Needless to say, this can have an impact on a farm when you need a certain number of people to get the work done.
The Koopman family of West Point Farms in Wendell, Idaho, says, “You can’t run a short staff because you have to always expect individuals will need to go back home for two weeks or even be away for a month.”
John Gilliland of McArthur Dairy Farms Inc. in Okeechobee, Florida, adds, “When they decide they’re going to go home for a month or two months, they’re going to go. We have made our program to work around that.”
Another concern in employing immigrants is how to help them adjust and adapt to American society. Batchelder tells managers to be aware of the loneliness immigrant workers often feel. He says, “This comes about because they may not be able to communicate very well. Since they want to work so many hours, they may not have much of a personal life outside of the farm. And all workers are impacted by their feelings of loneliness and isolation.”
Batchelder continues, “Sometimes managers can help by bringing some of their culture to them, while they are here in our country.” Stup adds, “Many farm managers create opportunities for people from different countries to share their cultures with one another. For example, you can display maps in your break room that show the different countries people are from and pinpoint their hometowns.”
Dairy producer Tom Thompson of Stotz Dairy in Buckeye, Arizona, tells us, “Our immigrant employees enjoy the barbecues we have in order to make them feel more at home. They like the volleyball matches we have and those occasions where we might challenge another dairy at a softball game. These things help our employees feel a part of our community.”
Job descriptions and performance expectations
Throughout this “Supervisory Skills for Managers” DVD collection, emphasis has been placed on making sure employees understand what you want them to do. Workers cannot be expected to perform their jobs satisfactorily unless they have a clear understanding of their job description and the standard operating procedures (SOPs) they are to follow.
Every employee wants to do a good job. They want to know what you expect of them. And they want to be good at what they do. However, because of the language barrier, the task of communicating expectations can be particularly challenging.
Stup concludes, “If you are very clear about performance expectations, if you outline the procedures and goals and if you communicate this to employees so they can understand, then you are way ahead.
“When people know the goals, when they know how to achieve them and when they know how their work contributes to the goals, they will be able to be successful.” PD