For Farm Employees, Mental Wages are Important

Husker Home Place

On the farm, salary sometimes comes in a distant second place to being appreciated on the job.

Published on: January 23, 2012

At the University of Nebraska Extension crop production clinics held around the state recently, one of the sessions was particularly telling, and should have made farm employers evaluate their operations, and how they treat family members and employees working the farm.

UNL Extension educator, Tim Lemmons, told a group of farmers at the Norfolk clinic that employers “should never hold back praise.”

He told the group that salary is important to Nebraska employees, but perhaps not as important as what Lemmons called “mental wages.” These are the little details that many employers forget.

He was talking about employers working the dirty jobs alongside their employees. My Dad was good at this. When he asked us to clean out the hog pens by hand with a scoop shovel and pitchfork, he worked right beside us and we could never outwork him. It made us want to work harder for him.

Employers should rely on the expertise of employees who are working on the front lines, Lemmons said. “People closest to a problem are generally better equipped to solve it,” he said.

He encouraged employers to use the word “we” instead of “I.” By using terms that imply a working team on the farm, employers provide employees with a sense of belonging. They are more liable to take some ownership in farm projects if they feel they are part of the team.

Lemmons said that farm employers need to exhibit patience when working with employees. They need to provide employees with a set of clear expectations, and they need to provide positive feedback to their employees.

It’s a good idea for employers to give employees an opportunity to explain their own long term goals in life, and to make an effort to understand an employee’s values. Lemmons said that often a single pat on the back for a job well done is worth more to an employee than anything. They want to feel rewarded and appreciated in their work.

These tips for employers could be applied for almost any workplace, whether or not it is farm related or whether or not the employees are paid non-family workers, or family members working on the home place.

Workers want to feel a part of what they are doing and they want to be appreciated. This doesn’t always have to be in the form of monetary compensation, but can be as simple as an appreciative word now and then.

I think many employers, farmers among them, forget these small but crucial details when dealing with their employees. With larger farms and more workers employed by operations these days, Lemmons’ comments were more timely than ever. I guess employers should never underestimate the value of being kind and gracious to their workers.