More than anything else, the people who are in the barn each day have the largest impact on the attitude on the farm and how it operates.

“When people working in the barns appreciate their job, that attitude translates into more effective production,” says Sarah Probst-Miller, DVM, Carthage (IL) Veterinary Service.

Making employees feel appreciated and comfortable in their jobs are necessary components to worker satisfaction.

“We bring employees in and expect them to know how to do things they’ve never experienced before,” she points out.

In those situations, it’s no wonder some new workers don’t stay long at their jobs, she adds.

Impacts on Attitude

The swine industry needs to zero in on engagement and patience to have the biggest impact on employee attitude.

Miller cites a talk given last year by Larry Firkins, DVM, University of Illinois, in which he challenged the employers to do a better job of working with employees. Firkins said employees are engaged “when they want their organization to succeed because they feel connected emotionally and socially.”

Industry-wide surveys indicate, however, that less than a third of all workers actually feel engaged, Miller notes.

When employees feel engaged, statistics suggest there is 27% lower absenteeism, 31% less liklihood of switching jobs, 62% fewer work-related accidents, and 18% more productivity, she says.

Employee engagement calls for workers to feel appreciated and motivated. “We have to figure out how to reach people as individuals in a way that is meaningful to them. It’s the process of believing that ordinary employees can be the source of extraordinary results,” she stresses.

Twelve Steps to Engagement

A survey of over two million employees identified the top 12 points that employees identified as necessary for employee engagement. “It has been very successfully used in other industries, and I think we need to use it consistently in the swine industry,” Miller observes.

Ranked in order of importance, the 12 points include:
1. I know what is expected of me at work.
2. I have the materials and the equipment to do my work well.
3. At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.
4. In the last seven days, I have received recognition or praise for doing good work.
5. My supervisor or boss at work seems to care about me as a person.
6. There is someone at work who encourages my development.
7. At work, my opinion seems to matter.
8. The mission or purpose of my work makes me feel my job is important.
9. My fellow employees are com-mitted to doing quality work.
10. I have the best friends at work.
11. In the last six months, someone at work has talked to me about my job performance.
12. In the last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow.

“This is a survey you can give your own employees on a quarterly basis to get a ranking of where your farm is on employee engagement,” Miller explains.

A survey by the Carthage veterinary group found a high correlation between pigs/sow/year and overall employee engagement, fixing the belief that the concept of employee engagement is just as valid in the swine industry as in other industries.

Employee engagement requires one-on-one communication and uses patience in tailoring the message to reach that individual, Miller states.

For swine consultants and other advisors to the farm, it’s important to remember to respect the chain of command. Deliver the same message to all levels and departments, but tailor it to each individual.

For example, the owner of the operation wants the message of how to properly treat young pigs characterized in a different way than does the staff in the barns every day, she says.