Richard Branson is famous for a vast array of business success, theories and innovative ideas including his corporate philosophy that "people are out greatest asset" and this philosophy can be applied to all businesses, regardless of their size, sector or objectives reports Bidwells.
From the colossal Virgin empire to a local tea room employing one member of staff, people remain at the heart of a business and when people are happy and motivated they become more committed to the objectives, ambition and vision of the organisation.
Employees are the core of an organisation's operations and therefore have a direct impact on the relationship between the business and the entity it serves, another business, a customer or a client. From selling produce in a farm shop to operating large machinery in a field the employee has the ability to directly influence the outcome and the bottom line.
Poor customer service could range from a lack of courtesy when serving a customer or to poor operation of the machinery that then damages soil or gates; the end result is that the business' relationship with that customer or client is damaged and consequently the reputation of the business may be harmed. I am sure all readers are familiar with how fast information, good or bad, can be passed via word of mouth in the farming community!
Production is also evidently related to employee motivation and satisfaction. It is estimated that in the U.S. the annual cost of poor management and lost productivity as a result of disengaged employees is between $960 billion and $1.2 trillion whilst engaged employees are 24% more likely to increase sales.
These statistics may appear unrelated to British Farming, however they are in fact extremely relevant and applicable. There is without doubt a clear link between employee satisfaction and productivity regardless of sector, size or objective. In agriculture where employees often work alone, without supervision, there's an even greater need for workers to be motivated to ensure they are productive and safe.
Improving employee motivation can be a relatively simple feat. Mercer, one of the world's largest HR companies, carried out a study of employees from 21 industries across 44 countries and the study revealed three key factors that employees want from an employer; flexibility, commitment to health and wellbeing and working with a purpose.
The days of 9 to 5 working is over and people now want more flexibility in how and when they work such as exploring options like working from home and being more flexible over the hours that they do. Clearly in an industry like agriculture this is potentially harder to implement, yet there are ways it can be done if managers and employers really think about it. This could be allowing employees to leave early for dentist appointments or working around family commitments, very small changes to a business' flexibility will make the employees' lives easier and increase their motivation.
Health and well-being was the second factor the Mercer study identified and is very much linked to flexibility. Whilst some larger organisations have the ability and resource , to offer health-care packages, typical farming businesses are unlikely to have this. Nevertheless this does not mean there cannot be improvements made in terms of health and well-being. Simple recognition of an employee not quite "being at their best" and letting them finish early or managers covering the team during the festive period so they can spend time with family can all make a difference.
Mind, the mental health charity, reports that 1 in 4 people will experience a mental health problem each year. When considering these statistics and the nature of lone-working in farming, it is evident that there is a need in British farming for employers to be aware and proactive towards supporting employees with mental health and a modern, flexible approach to people management may help facilitate this.
The culture of "there is always something to do" is common on nearly every farm and whilst this is probably true, there are days when perhaps everyone would benefit from a rest and some time with their family instead of sweeping out a grain shed. What is implemented does not have to be significant, expensive or particularly formal, employees will simply appreciate the recognition and almost certainly be more motivated as a result.
When I had a very minor head injury during the middle of harvest when the whole team was stretched my employer gave me all the time off I needed. They could not have shown me any more concern during that time - and it wasn't because he thought I was going to take legal action! - but it made me feel appreciated and I returned to work motivated and with a desire to repay my employer with hard work and to go "that extra mile".
A more modern desire from employees is the need to work with a purpose. People now want to work for a greater good, whether this is for society, the environment or for the particular business or organisation they are involved in. The same Mercer study revealed that employees who are achieving and enjoying work are three times more likely to work for a company with a strong sense of purpose.
This can be applied to a farming business and it may mean managers explaining the wider objectives of the business to employees, even involving them in some of the decision making, such as what features are required on new machinery, or what bull they feel would suit the herd. These may seem small things to employers because they do this every day but they could have a considerable impact on the employee.
What is evident is that employees are vital to the success of any business. Therefore, for people to perform well it is essential they are managed in a way that fulfils their desires.
Whilst agricultural employment can often be seen as unique from other industries and require a certain attitude which can often be the case, generally the same principals can be applied and quite often at a very inexpensive, personal level costing the business very little but in fact benefitting the employee greatly and bringing an abundance of benefits.
Graduate Agribusiness Consultant - Bidwells