Wait, forget the wedding plans, I didn’t mean that kind of engaged!
We’re talking about engaged employees, those who feel a mental and emotional connection at work and are willing to put in the extra effort required to do a great job. Disengaged employees, in contrast, are those who just “go through the motions” getting done what is needed to keep drawing a paycheck. The Gallup organization recently issued a report showing that among employees in the manufacturing sector only about 25% of employees were engaged, considerably lower than the overall U.S. workforce engagement level of 33%. Not that 33% is great by any means, that means 67% were not engaged.
There are a lot of parallels between manufacturing and agriculture. Much of the work can be very repetitious with a priority placed on maintaining a standardized, consistent routine. The work is often physically demanding and may take place in dirty or dusty environments. These factors may seem challenging to overcome as leaders seek to create work environments that increase employee engagement. But even in manufacturing or agricultural settings, leaders can have a major impact on increasing employee engagement.
Communicate, Communicate, Communicate
The first step in building engagement is for leaders to build strong relationships with employees and relationships always start with communication. I’ve seen leaders who like to hear themselves talk but fail miserably at listening. Communication must be a two-way street if the goal is to build engagement. Communication doesn’t have to be chit chat about the weather or the kid’s soccer game, it can and should mostly be about the work. Performance feedback is critical, see my new publication on SCORE feedback to help supervisors learn to give effective feedback.
Encourage Employee Participation
My research with hundreds of dairy farm employees revealed that employee participation was a big driver influencing employee’s level of organizational commitment. Those who felt they had a voice in decisions that affected their work were far more likely to be committed to their organization. This doesn’t mean that employees get to pick how they work each day, it means that employee ideas and opinions have a way of being included in the decisions and management. For example, a monthly meeting with the team where employees are encouraged to share ideas for improvement can go a long way toward increasing engagement. Involving employees, both hands and minds, in special projects is another way to show confidence and help to engage employees.
One natural advantage that agricultural operations have when it comes to engagement is that the work is always important. Agriculture is engaged in feeding people on a daily basis, nothing is more essential than that. Managers should continue to emphasize that fact with employees. Another good practice is to share some of the end products with employees on a regular basis, just to keep the quality and tangible benefit fresh for them. Share cheese or ice cream, apples and pie, fresh bread, etc. all with a reminder that this is what we’re working to produce.
Communicate and build meaningful work relationships, encourage participation with hands and mind, and keep the focus on the ultimate importance of our work. These are keys to building employee engagement in agricultural organizations.