Several years ago, I asked a dairy farmer if it was easier for him to manage his cows or his employees. He responded with a laugh and said “the cows are much easier.” 

Most dairy farmers know that if they provide cows with comfortable conditions, good nutrition and pay attention to daily needs, cows will work for them in a positive manner. But, if you treat them poorly, provide uncomfortable stalls, poor-quality feed and do not care for their needs, cows perform poorly.

This applies to your employees, too. If you treat your employees well, provide them with good working conditions and pay them a fair wage, people respond with productive work.

As a veterinary practice owner with several employees, I, too, sometimes struggle with management and am constantly trying to improve. I think one of the goals of a business owner is to seek an answer to the question “what do my employees want?”  While money is important, many employees have increased job satisfaction if you provide them with the care and rewards that they desire, just like cows.

Here are a few things I’ve found that work in my practice and with my clients.

Praise and reward

Positive reinforcement of a job well done is important to all of us. Make a special effort to tell employees they did a good job and thank them for their work. 

I’ve found that if you let your staff know they are doing a good job or that you notice and appreciate their efforts, it makes them want to please you even more.

Appropriate criticism

Provide constructive criticism. Show your people the right way to do their job. Do not criticize them publicly, but instead provide critical reviews of performance in a private setting.

You don’t want your employees to be afraid of you or they will only do a good job when they think you are watching.

Keep discussions with employees confidential. This assures them that they can discuss any problems they are having with management without the entire staff knowing about it.

Written job descriptions

All employees should have a job title and a written job description. Make sure each of your employees know what they are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it. Develop a written employee manual that describes all rules and policies of the farm. 

I review our office manual and job description with each new employee during his or her first week of work. If employees don’t know what they are doing, not only will they not perform well, but they also will not feel confident in their job.

Employee meetings

I have one major office meeting each month and all employees attend. We discuss policies, ideas, problems and have learning exercises. Consider implementing a similar meeting to discuss important topics and gain employee input.

Last year, I asked each of our employees to turn in one idea to cut expenses and one to improve revenue. The winner got a prize and we implemented their policy. This allowed employees to be a part of the company, not just work for it.

Ask your employees how they think you can improve milk quality, decrease expenses or improve your breeding program. You may be pleasantly surprised at the answers you receive.

Good working environment

No employee should have to work in an unsafe environment. 

Also, develop a zero-tolerance policy for harassment. Decide what topics are not good workplace discussions on your farm. In turn, make sure that employees can also have fun and camaraderie at work. Work can be fun, too!

When well cared for, our cows work hard to provide income for your farm. However, everything on the farm happens through people. Manage your employees with care and they will provide good service in return.

Fred Gingrich is a practicing veterinarian and owner of Country Roads Veterinary Services Inc. in Ashland, Ohio.