If you find the current labor market challenging, you are not alone. However, everyone can think of a business or two in their community which is considered an “employer of choice”. They are the businesses with a strong reputation for being a place where employees want to work. Yes, they pay a competitive wage, but they also invest in their own professional development to continually improve their skills as employers and create a positive workplace environment for employees.
Many employers think people are motivated to work for reasons of pay. Research on self-determination theory and work motivation tells us that humans are motivated not simply by material possession, but also by enjoyment and meaning that our actions bring us. Many of the daily tasks we ask employees to do are not inherently satisfying; often they involve repetitive actions. However, a work environment that fosters the inherent psychological needs of autonomy, relatedness and competence, can result in employees more likely to feel motivated to work. How can employers create such an environment to motivate employees?
Chalk the field
Employee autonomy or ‘self rule’ begins with “chalking the field”. This requires defining the job’s goals, expectations, compensation and consequences. Autonomy allows the employee to feel trusted in their ability to do the job, and allows a level of flexibility and power to make decisions about how the job is done. Avoid problems with an employee who abuses autonomy by making sure he/she bears the responsibility for their actions. The goals and expectations of the job must be measurable by you and the employee. For example, the goal is <3% calf death loss and Joe is confident he can achieve this, great if the goal is met but if not, you soon discuss actions to meet the goal. Joe then has the option to commit to the expectations, or move on to other employment. Now, you must also be able to connect the actions of the employee to the outcomes. This may require your being present to observe the job as necessary. Also, you must follow the defined compensation or consequences, or risk losing trust with everyone else who is following the protocol. By doing so, your team will gain further confidence in you as a leader.
Share your vision with your team
Joe will be motivated if he perceives you to be a capable leader. Leaders convey vision and values of the business so that employees understand how their job relates to the overall success and importance of the business; and therefore they know, and feel their work is meaningful. Successful employers convey a strong vision to employees, and live it every day.
Farming in today’s economy requires passion. What is your own motivation for farming, and why? Share your passion with your team. Successful leaders master the concept of relatedness in part by communicating their vision and passion effectively. Articulating emotion is not easy, but it is an important skill in order to effectively relate to your team. Improving your communication skills can be developed through education, much like other skills required by the job.
Employees also feel connected when they have healthy relationships at work. Repeatedly, employee surveys nationwide indicate they remain or resign from a job due to relationship with the employer. Find out what is important to your employees and explore ways to show you care about their well-being and what matters to them.
Foster an environment of competence
An employee feels motivated about work when it is perceived to be something that requires competence/skill, and when they feel accomplished or a sense of mastery. Convey the importance of the job by encouraging participation in educational events, training, and association meetings. Acknowledge an employees mastery by asking them to train new employees, or help develop a job description. Consider whether your farm offers a type of “career path” for employees that are motivated by competency. By growing their job skills and increasing knowledge-base, employees can feel inherent benefits of the job, which increases their job satisfaction.
Improving your reputation as an employer does not happen overnight. However, you can invest in professional development to improve your leadership skills, and be on your way to becoming an employer of choice. For more information: https://farms.extension.wisc.edu/programs/becoming-the-employer-of-choice/
 Gagné, Marylène and Edward Deci, authors of research of Self Determination Theory and Work Motivation.