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Treat Your Employees Right

The golden rule in successfully dealing with people has always been to treat others as you would want to be treated.At Oasis Farms Inc., owners try to take that philosophy a step further in dealing with their 17-member staff. "We call it the 'silver rule,' and it says treat people the way they want to be treated," says Jane Feagans, who runs the Oakford, IL, hog operation along with brothers Bob and

The golden rule in successfully dealing with people has always been to treat others as you would want to be treated.

At Oasis Farms Inc., owners try to take that philosophy a step further in dealing with their 17-member staff. "We call it the 'silver rule,' and it says treat people the way they want to be treated," says Jane Feagans, who runs the Oakford, IL, hog operation along with brothers Bob and Rich Brauer. Feagans serves as office manager for the 1,800-sow, farrow-to-finish operation and a year-old, off-site, 1,200-sow, breed-to-farrow operation.

She acknowledges knowing how employees want to be treated is both the most important and most difficult part of employee management.

"Realize that everyone is different and how to treat an employee can't be covered in an employee manual. You may be very successful with one person and not as successful with another," notes Feagans.

She says at Oasis Farms, employee treatment is helped out by the differences in their two main managers. One is production-oriented and the other is people-oriented, giving employees someone to go to for either concern.

Meeting People's Needs Feagans offers this list of 20 rules to being a good employer:

1. Give employees training. "They have to be shown how to do something before they can do it right," she points out. Training to do the job right is also critical to employee self-satisfaction.

At Oasis Farms, all employees receive 100% on-the-job training because most of the employees have non-hog backgrounds.

"Hiring young people two to four years out of high school can be a good starting time. They can learn and realize there are some career benefits here that maybe they didn't have at their last job," says Feagans.

2. Let employees know what is expected of them (closely related to training). Oasis has an employee manual which is discussed with new employees.

3. Know what is important to each employee. "Everyone thinks money is at the top of the list, but if there are other problems, money won't make them disappear; it will just delay them. The other things of importance to employees include appreciation, promotional growth, job security and satisfaction, tactful disciplining, loyalty, etc.

4. Pay them fairly. Inconsistent pay on your farm will hurt morale. Feagans says Oasis Farms tries topay competitively with other industries, not the highest, but not the lowest, either.

5. Make the most of your "fringe benefit" dollars. Owners used to pay for employee health insurance. But Feagans says surprisingly they didn't appreciate it. So owners gave employees a raise equal to the cost of health insurance premiums and added a flexible spending plan. Employees pay for the health insurance using pre-tax dollars. The flexible spending plan also covers medical expenses not covered by health insurance, dependent care and disability insurance. Now employees appreciate the health package, she says.

In 1995, Oasis Farms also started offering a 401K retirement plan. Employees were pleased with the move because it helped accomplish what most had been unsuccessful at, saving for retirement.

6. Find something good to say to your employees. "Everyone needs a pat on the back regardless of position," comments Feagans.

7. Treat employees with respect. No one is more important to you than you. Treat them that way.

8. Let employees know they are appreciated. It gives them more energy and motivation.

9. Hold monthly staff meetings and be sure they provide two-way communications, says Feagans.

"We let employees know what is happening around here, where we will be going with the low hog prices and assure them that we are on sound financial ground so they know they will still have a job here in the future," she explains. Since day one of the operation back in 1976, Oasis Farms has placed all of their long-term expenditures on long-term notes.

In turn, employees have the opportunity at monthly staff meetings to air grievances or problems and know they will be heard before the whole group.

10. Create an environment for success. Keep a positive attitude and it will rub off on your employees.

11. Create a pleasant working environment. "We have jobs that aren't fun to do. But we try to make them as much fun as we can," stresses Feagans. Owners installed a nice break and lunch room with microwaves and a refrigerator. A shower is provided so employees don't have to go home wearing dirty clothes.

And, adjoining is a recreational area featuring a pool table, weight and exercise equipment. There is also a sauna for employee use. A washer and dryer are also provided.

12. Create a team atmosphere while encouraging an attitude of "mine." "It is an attitude which says that a person takes better care of their own things than they do somebody else's," declares Feagans. "For example, by encouraging the farrowing manager to feel that the sows he works with everyday are his, he will take better care of them."

13. Take care of problems as they occur. Don't let problems build with employees. Deal with them immediately before they fester and become bigger.

14. Recognize the difference between mistakes and chronic problems. Everyone screws up now and then. Be fair and recognize them as such and don't bring them up later. A chronic problem will be repeated and can be dealt with accordingly, Feagans points out.

15. Don't micro-manage your employees. Empower your employees to do their job.

16. Don't work your employees 50-hour weeks or more. "Your employees will not get 50% more work done if they work 60 hours, than if they work 40 hours. Your employees will pace themselves," emphasizes Feagans.

Instead of having two people work 60-hour weeks, why not have three people work 40 hours? You end up paying them about the same amount of base pay in the end, but workers are more productive, a lot easier to work with and less tired on a 40-hour schedule, she says.

"Our philosophy is that employees are going to do a better job per hour, so they are worth more per hour on a 40-hour schedule," says Feagans.

17. Make sure employees are given credit for the hours they work. Use a time clock. If someone takes a long lunch or break, the other employees know that time has to be made up because all employees (including the three owners) punch a time clock, she stresses.

Employees work weekends and holidays on a rotational basis. They are surprised when we tell them we pay time and a half for weekend/holiday work, says Feagans.

The co-owner of Oasis Farms chuckles when she recalls what happened to weekend duty. The rotation used to include the three main owners of the operation until farm supervisors came to the trio and said they wanted them off the rotation!

"I didn't know at the time whether that was a compliment or an insult," recalls Feagans. Supervisors reasoned that the owners already had too much to do overseeing the operation, were working 50-plus hours a week, sometimes off the clock, and didn't need weekend chores to add to their workload.

18. Be flexible with "flex" time. If an employee checks with his supervisor and it can be worked out, he/she can take off work during the day for special events or a doctor's appointment.

19. Be consistent with the rules. Make sure all employees, including owners, obey them.

20. Make work fun. Find ways to make the work less boring and the rewards more exciting.

Building A Positive Image The job of working on a hog farm conjures up some bad images to some. It's considered to be a job of low pay, long hours, hard and dirty work. Now some people are saying that it's unhealthy. The Oasis Farms' owners learned that some people in their community warned prospective employees of the health dangers of working on a hog farm.

Feagans say they are battling those negatives by treating employees right, being good neighbors and handling wastes responsibly to reduce the smell to visitors and the area.

One neighbor had a pasture fire on two different occasions. Each time, volunteer firemen (employees from Oasis Farms) dropped everything to put out the fire.

Other neighbors borrow tools and equipment from the farm. When Oasis Farms purchased a tree spade truck, many neighbors didn't realize that act would benefit them. However, the seedling trees that Oasis Farms has planted annually since 1976 have since been transplanted to many neighbors' yards, she explains.

"Be an asset, not a liability to your community," stresses Feagans.

That good image yields returns. Oasis Farms seldom has complaints from the community about the hog enterprise.

And unlike some other hog farms that advertise and still have trouble finding and keeping employees, Oasis Farms never has advertised and is always fully staffed, she explains. Word of mouth is their "advertising." And it pays off.