Communicate with Hispanic employees

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Editor's note: This Practice Builder was contributed by Robert Corbett, dairy nutritionist and veterinarian in Spring City, Utah.

Implementing the recommendations of the nutritionist on the farm is one of the most important aspects of a successful nutrition program. The majority of the large dairy farms today utilize Spanish-speaking employees in some or all aspects of dairy management. Implementation of feeding protocols and communication with those doing the actual feeding is essential in order for the animals to receive the formulated rations — properly prepared and delivered to the feed bunk at the appropriate time.

There is often a communication barrier between the owner/manager and the Hispanic employees if those involved in management do not speak Spanish. It is very common for the Hispanic employee to shake his head up and down in acknowledgement of the fact that the manager is speaking to him, regardless of the fact of whether or not he understands what is being said. The manager assumes the employee understands him, when, in fact, he has little or no idea what is being said to him. This situation has led to many misunderstandings between management and labor, resulting in poor implementation of feeding protocols and instructions not being followed correctly.

I have seen many cases where the feeder was fired, not understanding the reason why, thinking that he had done exactly as the manager had instructed. I have worked in Mexico for more than 25 years and as a result have learned the language, but, just as important, a lot of the cultural differences that exist between our countries. Being able to communicate with the employees has helped me to establish a closer working relationship with them. They understand that I am there to make sure that they keep their jobs, by communicating to them their respective responsibilities and giving them the tools they need to perform their jobs in a way that is productive and efficient for the benefit of the dairy.

I have also found that merely telling the employees what to do is not sufficient. They are intelligent people and certainly capable of understanding why they are performing a specific task. Explaining the reasons why they must perform a task in a specific way greatly improves the compliance of the employee to the instructions from the owner/manager. A good example is the milking procedure. It is very common to instruct the milkers in proper milking procedure and return in a few days to find them doing something completely different. However, teaching them the reasons behind a specific protocol, so they understand the importance of each step, often improves compliance.

I also find myself spending time helping the employees express their concerns to the owner/manager over such things as housing arrangements, insurance, vacation times, shift changes and employee disagreements. Solving these problems is crucial to maximizing the effectiveness of each employee and also to ensure that they are satisfied with their job and working conditions. Employees will often have excellent suggestions as to how to improve things on the dairy or how to perform a certain task in a more efficient manner.

I would certainly encourage those who work with Hispanic employees to spend some time learning their language and to develop a good working relationship with them. I'm sure you will find that the recommendations you make on behalf of your clients will be implemented more effectively and that the morale and stability of the work force will improve.

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