Keeping Good Help

Keeping employees motivated and happy is a tricky balance, even in the horse world. Here are a few tips.
Keeping good help means more than giving the person a paycheck.

“It’s hard to find good help.” How many times have you heard or said that? And once you find that good help you certainly want to avoid the typical labor problems of turnover, absenteeism and low productivity. Doing so will require more than offering a paycheck. The first step is getting to know your employees’ personality styles and what motivates them. Then it is up to you to meet their needs.

One simple way to start is by using a rule you were (hopefully) taught as a child. Say “please” and “thank you.” You’d be amazed at how far a simple “thank you” will go. It shows that you see and acknowledge a person’s efforts and will make her feel appreciated.

Yes, the equine world is full of passionate people who want to make a go of a career in horses. But reining them in, while keeping them motivated, can be a tricky balance. The following are some tips from the experts:

Sources of Motivation

People are motivated in different ways, but no person is motivated exclusively by one. That’s why it’s important to get to know your employees. A study done by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln looked at motivational trends throughout the agricultural workforce and found five main ways that individuals are driven. They are:

  1. Intrinsic process—motivated by fun. These people focus on the sheer enjoyment of the work. They will talk about how much they like or dislike a task. They will volunteer for jobs that they enjoy the most, but won’t do well in jobs they don’t like.
  2. Instrumental—motivated by rewards. These individuals have a concern for tangibles, such as money and bonuses. They expect compensation for any extra work, talk a lot about money and the relative wealth of others compared to themselves.
  3. Self-concept external—motivated by reputation. These people are concerned about the opinions of others. They want to preserve or enhance their reputation among their peers. They will often ask for feedback, as well as seek praise and recognition for work performed.
  4. Self-concept internal—motivated by challenge. These individuals strive to meet their own personal standards for job performance. They will do difficult tasks with little or no supervision and are interested in developing a wide range of skills.
  5. Goal internalized—motivated by the cause. These people need to believe in the cause. They have value-based principles that guide their decisions and actions. They may ask you “Why are we doing this?”

The key, then, is to tap into the right source of motivations for each employee. And if you have employees with different motivations, it would be best to institute rules across the board rather than one set of rules for one employee and another set for a different employee. Suggestions from the research include:

  1. For the Intrinsic Process—Find out what tasks an employee likes best and assign those tasks to that employee. Create a professional but enjoyable work atmosphere.
  2. For the Instrumental Motivation—Make expectations clear to employees and let them know what compensation they will get for their efforts. Create incentive-laden pay scales or develop non-monetary rewards such as earning extra days off or the ability to work flexible hours.
  3. For the Self-Concept External—Give public praise and recognition for employee achievements. Always criticize behind closed doors, never in public!
  4. For the Self-Concept Internal—Give challenging work that requires a worker’s expertise, create opportunities for workers to further develop their skills and avoid assigning these individuals mundane tasks.
  5. For the Goal Internalization—Clearly communicate the organization’s vision. Communicate your end-goals and how tasks being performed will help to achieve those goals.

Tips from the Business World

The corporate world knows that employee motivation is key not only to individual performance, but also group production in the company as a whole. Business experts are full of tips for motivating employees. Not all of them apply to life at a barn, but many of them do, such as these from Inc. Magazine and HR World.

  1. Set a good example. Make your farm an enjoyable place to be. Your attitude is contagious. If employees see you being professional, but being able to laugh and enjoy the day, they will be more likely to follow suit.
  2. Allow the employees to share in success. If you go off to a major competition and do well, come back and thank all your employees. Every member of your team helps in your overall success.
  3. Encourage workers to speak up about the good and the bad. Listening and communicating with your employees makes them feel needed, appreciated and valued. Ask what they want out of their work and see if you can help them do it.
  4. Consider each employee’s age and life stage. A younger employee may value public praise more than an experienced person. The older employee may appreciate working for flexible hours or more time off.
  5. Put money in its place. People don’t want to feel as if they are not being paid fairly, but then again money is not a sole motivator. If someone is being paid a fair wage and still isn’t happy in his/her work, throwing more money at the person probably will not help.
  6. Offer help with career goals. Find out what the person wants to do in the future and give him/her the opportunity to build the necessary skills and connections.

In The End

After putting forth the effort to get to know your employees and doing your best to give them what they need, they still may not be happy. If your motivational efforts aren’t working, it might not be your fault. If an employee would really rather be doing something else, it would be best to encourage that person to move on. That way you can focus your efforts on the people that really do want to be there and help you maintain a successful equine business.






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