Competitive wages and fringe benefits are just the first step in making an operation more attractive to employees. Favorable working conditions are also high on employees' priority lists.
Operations that consistently work their employees 60 hours, six to seven days/week may find it harder to retain those employees. Studies have shown that employees are also willing to accept lower wages in order to work in better environments. Employees also indicate that the mere availability of a dust mask or respirator is a positive benefit.
There are important tradeoffs for employers to consider. For example, the cost of hiring an additional employee may be well worth the investment if it reduces hours worked weekly or provides more weekend time off. Upgrading facilities to make them safer and more pleasant to work in is usually a good investment, too. These types of strategic expenditures will help attract top-notch employees and improve retention rates.
Typical Workweek Pork production employees endure a strenuous workweek compared to the average civilian employee. Generally, they work longer hours, work more days and get fewer weekends off.
Hours worked/week have not fallen over time. On average, employees reported working 45.2 hours/week in 1990 versus 49 hours/week in 2000, an 8.4% increase (Table 12). In addition to working long hours, they consistently reported working an average of almost six days/week.
By comparison, the average workweek reported by the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 1998 was 36.5 hours. This is 25.5% less than the average reported by hog farm employees. Thus, while annual salaries in the pork industry are now closer to the U.S. average, pay/hour worked is substantially lower in the pork sector.
Some interesting discrepancies emerge when the hours producers expect employees to work are compared to the hours employees reported working. In 1990, producers expected employees to work 46.7 hour/week on average. This was 1.5 hours more than employees reported working. In 1995, producers expected employees to work 45.2 hours/week, and in 2000 that expectation rose to 46.5 hours/week. This is four hours less than employees reported in 1995 and two hours less than those reported in 2000.
Much of the discrepancy is seen in the more than 50-hours/week tabulation. Workweeks of more than 40 hours were reported by 78.5% of producers and 80.7% of employees. However, 65.4% of producers expected their employees to put in a 41-50-hour workweek compared to 45.6% of the employees.
Only 13.1% of the producers expect their employees are working more than 50 hours/week, while 35.1% of the employees report doing so. And, more than 9% of employees say they work more than 60 hours/week, but less than 5% of the producers acknowledge their employees put in that many hours.
Comparing the average hours of work each week by annual hog production reveals two interesting trends. Producers and employees agree that longer hours are to be expected in larger operations, but most operations are now reporting fewer weekly hours. These results suggest that one reason industry hours remain high is that a larger percentage of employees are going to work for larger operations that expect more hours.
Interestingly, producers in the Midwest and West consistently expect more hours worked/week than producers in the Northeast and Southeast. However, it is the employees in the Southeast that have consistently reported working more hours than employees in any of the other three regions.
With every other weekend or partial Saturdays and Sundays off, it is common for pork production workers to put in a 50-hour week. Pork producers responded to this disadvantage by making hours more flexible in 1995. This flexibility declined in 2000.
In 1995, more than 30% of producers and 26% of employees said their weekend schedules were flexible or staggered by working part of Saturday or Sunday (Table 13). In 2000, only 22.7% of producers and 17.8% of employees reported this flexibility. Most producers and employees reported two weekends off work a month. The percentage of producers reporting one weekend off work declined from 9.1% to 5.4% between 1990 and 2000, compared to employees that reported only one weekend off work declined from 12.2% to 5.4%.
Work Environment A new set of health questions was asked in the 2000 survey to gain a better understanding of some potential health concerns caused by an increased exposure to dust, gas and injury.
The questions asked producers and employees if they experienced symptoms typically related to adverse respiratory and skeletal muscular health. The symptoms, along with the percentage of producers and employees who responded affirmatively, are reported in Table 14. The table also reports responses of attendees at the World Pork Expo (WPX) between 1990 and 1995. These WPX attendees participated in a voluntary health survey sponsored by the National Pork Producers Council. Unlike the employee and producer survey, the WPX survey had participants both in and out of the pork industry, which provides an opportunity for comparisons.
Three interesting results appear in Table 14. First, employees consistently reported adverse health symptoms more often than producers did. For example, 25.8% of employees reported experiencing a dry cough, while only 17.1% of producers did. Producers in the WPX survey reported all symptoms more often than non-producers. Producers and employees in the 2000 survey also reported experiencing these symptoms more often than did non-producers in the WPX survey.
A more detailed analysis of the WPX data indicated that pork production was associated with a significantly higher incidence of minor respiratory and skeletal muscular problems. While none of these problems are life threatening, they can be life altering. In 1997, John Lawrence at Iowa State University surveyed Iowa farmers exiting the pork industry. He found that 34% of those under age 40 reported health as a significant factor in their exit decisions. Forty-two percent reported insufficient returns as a significant factor. Clearly, health problems remain important in any discussion of the future of the pork industry.
Forward Steps The good news is that the work environment in pork production systems has improved. In 1990, more than 75% of producers and employees described their work environment as good or excellent. In 1995, these ratings were 81% for employees and 83% for producers. These ratings climbed to 84% for employees and 86% for producers in 2000. Only about one in seven felt the environment was fair to poor in 2000. Between 1995 and 2000, the percentage of producers that felt their work environment was poor increased from 1.1% to 2.0%. Correspondingly, the percentage of employees who felt their work environment was poor increased from 2.8% to 3.4%.
Dust and gas levels also have improved. In 1990, 28.8% of producers and 22.7% of employees rated dust levels as low. In 2000, 37.1% of producers and 29.9% of employees rated dust levels as low. While the percentage of producers who rated dust levels as high did not change much from 4%, the percentage of employees who rated dust levels as high decreased from 15.3% to 9.8%.
For gas levels, 59% of producers and 52.2% of employees rated levels low in 1990. More offered a low rating in 2000, 65.6% of producers and 57.4% of employees. The percentage of producers who rated gas levels as high decreased from 1.7% to 1.1%; for employees the decrease was from 6.3% to 3.9%.
Dust Mask Use Slips In 1990, 27.3% of producers used a dust mask. This actually declined slightly to 25.1% in 2000. For employees, the percentage using a dust mask declined from 26.9% in 1990 to 19% in 2000, nearly a 30% decrease.
Ironically, mask use is decreasing, even though masks and respirators are more available, as is the training on how to properly use them. In 2000, almost 90% of employees indicated dust masks and respirators were supplied by their employers compared to only 70% in 1990. Just more than a third of employees indicated they were trained to use dust masks and respirators in 1990; by 2000, that number increased to almost half.
This represents a potential problem. By failing to use the dust mask or respirator provided by an employer, employees risk their health and are more likely to require sick days or file for disability or workers' compensation. Either way, the cost of employment to producers increases.
Personnel Management The rapid increase in the size of hog production facilities and their increased reliance on hired labor requires producers to develop new skills in personnel management.
The first lesson in personnel management for producers is that most employees want to do a good job and be proud of their work. Therefore, when an employee fails to live up to a producer's expectations, it is usually due to one of two reasons. The employee either lacks the required skills to perform the job properly, or he or she does not understand what is expected.
Most people like to avoid uncertainty whenever possible. This is especially true of new employees who can have high levels of uncertainty and anxiety. Anxiety worsens when the employee does not have a clear understanding of a job's responsibilities and the employer's expectations.
Put It in Writing Producers can systematically and effectively communicate job responsibilities and expectations through the use of employee handbooks and written job descriptions and work plans. Putting responsibilities and expectations in writing gives employees a tangible reference.
In addition, frequent work reviews and formal evaluation procedures can serve to guide employees and let them know how they are doing. When an employee has exceeded expectations, formal evaluations provide a wonderful opportunity to acknowledge a job well done.
The surveys indicate that the majority of producers do not take advantage of employee handbooks, written job descriptions and work plans. Still, the percentage of producers using employee handbooks nearly doubled over the last 10 years from 12% in 1990 to 22.2% in 2000 (Table 15). Similar trends are seen in the percentage of producers using written job descriptions, which increased from 24.6% to 32.7%. The proportion of producers using written work plans dropped from 57.2% to 49%.
Fewer producers are reviewing written work plans with their employees weekly, and more are reviewing them monthly. Still, it is not clear if producers a re reviewing work plans more or less often because of the percentage choosing the nondescript response "Other." Many simply explained work plans were reviewed "as needed," "semi-annually," and "yearly."
Just more than 20% of producers took advantage of formal evaluations, an increase of 28.7% since 1995. Compared to 1995, 46.2% fewer used quarterly evaluations. Semi-annual evaluations increased by 19.7%, while annual evaluations increased by just 4.6%.
Whether the frequency of formal evaluations increased or decreased is hard to determine because of the 84.8% increase in the nondescript "other" response. Again, common responses by producers included "as needed," "weekly," and "monthly."
For producers responding with "as needed," a word of caution: It is too easy to review an employee's work and conduct a formal evaluation only when the employee's performance is poor. This approach misses the valuable opportunity to recognize employees for all they have done right.
A more in-depth analysis of the producer responses helped to identify characteristics common to those who use handbooks, written job descriptions, written work plans and formal evaluations. Generally, this analysis revealed: More-educated producers were more likely to provide handbooks, job descriptions, work plans and formal evaluations.
Larger producers were more likely to provide handbooks, job descriptions, work plans and formal evaluations. Such practices make it easier to manage large groups of employees. However, this does not lessen its importance for smaller producers.
Producers with more years of experience were significantly less likely to provide all but formal evaluations. In this instance, older, more experienced operators are probably accustomed to managing family labor or just one or two employees.
Management Weaknesses When producers were asked to evaluate their weaknesses in personnel management, the most frequent responses were similar in 1995 and 2000. Few training or growth opportunities and excessive work hours were chosen by more than a third of all producers in 1995. They were the second and third most frequent responses in 2000 (Table 16). Weak benefit packages and the lack of a well-developed work plan were reported by just less than one third of producers in 1995. They were the first and fourth most frequent responses in 2000. Producers were least concerned with their working conditions in both 1995 and 2000 and getting employees to share their ideas in 2000.
Employee Satisfaction Happy, satisfied employees are more productive. Satisfied employees tend to work harder and are less likely to call in sick. Employees who feel they are making positive contributions and are valued by their employer will generally be more satisfied with their work.
Employee satisfaction was high in 2000; 79.9% were either satisfied or very satisfied, slightly higher than in 1995. However, keep in mind, this survey only measures employees still on the job, having no way to gauge those who were unsatisfied and left the industry.
Environment Ranks High A more in-depth analysis was conducted to understand the effect of operation size and region, wages, incentives, benefits, weekly hours, days of work, weekends off and the work environment on employee satisfaction.
The most interesting results from this analysis were the importance of an employee's work environment in 1995 and 2000 and greater employee satisfaction in the Midwest and Northeast in 2000.
More than 95% of the employees who ranked their work environment as "excellent" also reported they were satisfied or very satisfied in both 1995 and 2000 (Table 17). For employees reporting a "good" work environment, the majority (86.2% in 2000 and 83.7% in 1995) reported they were satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. Of the employees who reported a "fair" work environment, 64.2% in 2000 and 49.1% in 1995 reported a need for change. For employees who reported a poor working environment, more than one in four in 2000 and two in five in 1995 reported poor satisfaction. These results clearly demonstrate the strong effect of an employee's work environment on job satisfaction.
Operation size, wages, benefits and hours/workweek all had little to no impact on employee satisfaction. Women were typically less satisfied than men. Employee satisfaction declined as weekly hours increased in 1995, but not in 2000.
In 1995, employee satisfaction did not differ by region once differences such as operation size, wages, weekly hours and working environments were taken into account. This was not the case in 2000. Employees in the Midwest and Northeast were more satisfied than employees in the Southeast and West. In the Midwest, 81.8% of employees reported being satisfied or very satisfied, up slightly since 1995. In the Northeast, 81% of employees reported being satisfied or very satisfied, down moderately from 1995. Job satisfaction also decreased moderately in the Southeast. The largest decrease in job satisfaction occurred in the West, where the percentage of satisfied and very satisfied workers fell from 81.3% to 73.2%.
Job Appeal Priorities When asked how their employer could make the job more appealing, more than half of employees, both in 1995 and 2000, chose a salary that better reflected their work (Table 19). Still, more than one third said improved benefits and better communication would help. More than 25% chose more personal recognition and fewer hours.
For the most part, producers understand what will make their operation more appealing. While the order changed between 1995 and 2000, the five most common responses were: a salary that better reflects employee's work, fewer hours, improved benefits, better communication and better working conditions.
The only real discrepancy between the producer and employee responses was that employees thought personal recognition was more important. Producers thought better working conditions were more important.
Fewer Want to Own Employee aspirations and attitudes toward the pork industry have changed over time, too. Most remarkable is the fact that fewer and fewer employees want to own their own operations. In 1990, nearly three-fourths held that goal. By 1995 about 55% said they'd like to own their own hog operation. By 2000, that number fell to 39.1%. More experienced employees were less likely to want their own operations. Junior college graduates tended toward that category too.
Furthermore, the percentage of employees who agreed their salary and benefits were competitive in their community increased modestly from 76.1% to 78.7% between 1990 and 2000. In 2000, two-year college graduates were more likely to agree that their compensation was competitive, while four-year college graduates were less likely to agree.
Opportunity to Advance In 1995, about 90% of employees agreed that their job was good training for advancement. However, that number fell to 83.5% in 2000. Women, more experienced employees, those with a two-year college degree and those working in larger operations were less likely to agree.
Still, slightly more than half (58.8%) felt that chances for advancement were limited in their operation, almost identical to 1990 (58.9%). Employees working for operations with more full-time employees were consistently less optimistic about their chances for advancement.
Naturally, not everyone can be a manager, and, with more full-time employees in an operation, management openings have more internal competition.
In 2000, employees with more tenure were more optimistic about advancement.
Career Goals Shift The percentage of employees who agreed to wanting a life-long career managing a hog operation increased from 67.4% in 1990 to 69.7% in 1995 before falling to 63.9% in 2000. The declining interest in managing an operation is hard to explain. One possibility is that, as the absolute number of operations decreases, employees see less opportunity to move up.
Four of five employees agreed that their present job was fulfilling. Employees working for operations with more full-time employees felt more fulfilled.
About 70% of employees felt their employer was sensitive to their personal needs in 2000, a decline from 80% who felt so in 1990.