July 26, 2019

Don't Treat Employees Like Commodities

 |  By: Jennifer Shike

It’s time to stop treating employees like commodities, says Heidi Vittetoe, co-owner of JWV Pork in Washington, Iowa. 

“We have to stop commoditizing people,” Vittetoe says. “You are employing a collection of individual human beings who all have their own gifts, strengths and weaknesses.”

For JWV Pork, an 80-employee operation that sells around 400,000 pigs a year, faith is a big part of their HR strategy. 

“How you welcome a stranger is not just my idea,” she says. “Jesus got it right. Great things come from meeting people as they are and working to grow together.”

Look for common ground and find ways to understand others.  

“There are no perfect people. I’m also not a perfect employer and it’s not a perfect business,” she says.

Vittetoe shared five strategies when it comes to building a powerful team of employees who stay with the business.

1. Communication and translation are not the same.

Training employees who do not speak English is not about finding training manuals in that person’s language. “Training manuals are a good thing – they are a piece – but they aren’t the puzzle,” she says.

Many of the language barriers can be solved by communication – not translation. Communication requires employer and employee to be on the same page. Translation is just using different words, but it still doesn’t mean the message is connecting. 

“Whether you’re talking about SOPs or verbal communication, you can always find someone to say words in another language, but people’s lived experiences have to get mashed up so communication can happen,” Vittetoe says. “If you only went to two years of school at age 5, then had to go cut trees in Guatemala, you have a different lived experience from a person from the same place who completed high school.”

Although both may speak the same language and come from similar families who immigrated to the U.S., Vittetoe says they have massive differences in their formation that need identified in order to make a cohesive team.

2.    Everyone is somebody’s child. 
Would you want your kid to work for you? Would working at your farm be a good place for a beginner to come through? Think about what you are asking your employees to do and if that’s something you’d be willing to ask your own child to do. 

She also says this is helpful to keep in mind when you are in conversation with employees. 

“Often times, there’s a tendency to overcome bad communication with volume, too” she says. “That doesn’t work. When you talk to a little kid, you don’t yell down at them. You go where they are. You adjust your words and tone to meet their experience level. Do the same with your employees.”

3.    Look for the why.
Problems happen. When they do, seek first to understand. Why is something not working? For example, if you have an employee who is always late to work, try to figure out why they are late, Vittetoe says. 

“Maybe they need an alarm clock, maybe they are getting a ride from someone else, maybe working two jobs, maybe they actually are lazy, but seek first to understand,” she adds.

Working with others can be complicated and difficult at times, but looking for the reason why something isn’t working as smoothly as you’d like makes a big difference.

4.    Be reasonable.
It’s also important for employers to have reasonable expectations when trying to initiate change around the farm. Do you have enough personal experience to know if expectations are unreasonable? Pay attention to your employee’s response to management changes, she advises. 

“I’ve been blessed with knowing what it’s like to not have enough water for pigs, a heater that doesn’t work, dead animals to deal with, etc.,” she says. “I know how distressing it is to not have the tools to do your job. That’s even when I was the one who is/was the provider of those tools.”

Because you just can’t always snap your fingers and get what you want, she says it’s important to be responsive to employee’s needs and remove as many barriers as possible.

5.    Build a culture of trust. 
A culture of trust is important to boost employee morale. Fear is a big demotivator, despite what people think about leading with fear, Vittetoe says. 

“People want to know what they are supposed to do, when they are doing what they are supposed to do and be redirected when they are not doing what they are supposed to do,” she says.

More from MILK:

If You’re Stressed Out, Don’t Take It Out On Employees

Your Employees Should Feel Comfortable Speaking Up

How To Make Good People Quit