Five Ways to Be a Better Boss

K-State specialist offers important employer tips.

In eight years of studying employee-employer relationships on the farm, Sarah Fogleman has heard countless questions on how to recruit, train and keep good employees. Fogleman, who until this month worked at Kansas State University's southeast area Research and Extension office, says the following five topics continue to resurface in her discussions with farmers and ranchers.

1. How much should I pay?

Wage rates are based on what other employers in your area are paying. For example, a very good truck driver in an urban locale probably gets more money than one in a rural location.

"Find out what people with a similar skill set are being paid and pay accordingly," Fogleman says.

For example, use the going wage at the county highway department, or what folks are being paid at the local cooperative as a baseline.

2. Understand and appreciate the value of benefits.

Oftentimes, there are fringe benefits employers can offer in addition to a paycheck. Health insurance, housing, perhaps a side of beef is part of the compensation package. Employers must communicate that these benefits have value, too.

"Almost everyone offers something, even if it doesn't have cash value," she says.

Does a valued employee have a spread of his own? Is he or she a hunter or like to fish? If so, there are benefits you can provide to cultivate good will.

"I know of several employees that have a place of their own and they use their employer's equipment," Fogleman says. To an employer, the act of lending equipment may not be a big deal and will go a long ways toward keeping good employees.

A word of caution about housing, however:

"That's the one benefit that makes me nervous. You become an employer by day and landlord by night," she explains. "And what happens when the time comes for an employee to move on? It may be difficult to fire him, because there may be no place for the family to live."

3. Let employees excel.

One of Fogleman's pet peeves is the employer who doesn't provide adequate training.

If possible, bring a new employee on board before the crunch of busy season hits, and spend adequate time training how to use the equipment properly and safely. Show the employee around the farm, pastures and fields and talk about potential scenarios and solutions.

Thorough training alleviates frustration and goes a long way toward keeping employees safe and productive. As he or she continues to develop skills, it's an employer's responsibility to delegate more authority.

4. 'Sell' your business.

"You chose this business, chances are other folks will choose it, too," Fogleman says. "You want to be the employer for whom folks want to work."

That means treating people well, being active in the community and to be known as a place of business, not just a place to work. Who wouldn't want to work at a farm that is respected in the community, and buys the grand champion beef at the county fair or donates a hog to the local church picnic?

Fogleman adds that a good employer lets folks know he has good folks working for them.

"A fruit and vegetable grower I've worked with calls parents to let them know that their high school children are doing a good job. How many parents hear the good news about their kids? That carries a lot of weight," she says.

5. Talk to your employees.

Evaluations are an important tool, Fogleman says, but too many employees don't give them. An evaluation doesn't have to be a formal process; it can be as easy as having a conversation while riding in a pickup. The important thing is to let employees know how they are doing on the job, and provide an opportunity for the employee to offer feedback of his or her own.

"Folks don't understand how easy it is to have an evaluation, but I think it is critical," she says.

For more information about employer/employee relationships, log onto www.agmanager.info.

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