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May 2016

Irregular weather patterns and drought; volatile and unpredictable markets for our produce – recent years have been tough as farmers have felt the big squeeze on farm profits.

With the economies of the farm affected, farmers have been forced to reduce input costs. One of the key inputs on a farm is labour. The steadily rising wage costs have not been accompanied by improved profitability in farming businesses so farmers have had to trim their labour force down to the minimum. It has become important for the farm manager to build a strong team of workers who are motivated and view their employment as a career which can be fulfilling and have future prospects which contribute to their family security. These individuals should ideally be committed to agriculture and be passionate about farming as a career. Of course this can only happen under good leadership.

A good boss is a good leader

A leader is someone who has vision for the future. He can instil confidence in his team and make them believe it is possible to achieve more than they ever thought they could. A good leader inspires his team so they want to work hard to achieve the goals of the business. American President Eisenhower said: ‘You do not lead by hitting people over the head. That’s assault, not leadership!’ A good leader is focused on excellent communication and makes a point of getting along with people. He makes employees feel they are valued and affords them dignity and respect at all times. A good leader is also only as good as the team he picks to work with him.

Recruitment – pick a good team

Good labour relations begin at the interview with the prospective employee. As the HR manager, it is important that you make very sure the individual has the necessary skills to help you and make your life easier by joining your team. Farms can no longer afford to carry unmotivated or aimless workers. At the same time it is every HR manager’s responsibility to clearly describe what will be expected from the employee in terms of the scope and hours of work so discuss the terms and conditions of employment and ensure there is no room for confusion at a later stage. You need to be clear about the job description and the salary which is paid for the position. There is nothing wrong with being firm with an employee who is not delivering according to the agreed upon terms of employment but all disciplinary procedures must be fair and founded on clearly laid down and understood guidelines.

Do the right thing

In South Africa the basic conditions of employment of farm workers in the agricultural sector are entrenched in the law and it is the responsibility of every farm manager to ensure that he is familiar with it and that he abides by the law. The minimum wages are also set and are reviewed annually. This is not something which can be negotiated between farm manager and employee since it is law and must be complied with.


While salary is important, it is not the only motivator and it is important to recognise this factor. Studies into human behaviour have discovered that while people do indeed go to work for the money, they also work for meaning in their lives. In other words job satisfaction and incentives increase motivation and productivity. As the manager of the farm you need to identify other possible incentives for your labourers. Time to attend to personal matters ranks high on the list of non-cash motivators. Can you give them extra time off after they have worked hard to get the crops planted or harvested? Can you allocate some of the crop as a reward for them so they can harvest their own maize? It is important to recognise each employee as an individual with unique characteristics and culture, and different needs and ambitions. Another important noncash motivator is in the form of recognition and praise for a job well done or simply taking the time to hold a one-on-one conversation.

In-service training

Business man and entrepreneur Richard Branson says: ‘Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough so they don't want to.’ Skills development and training also falls into the category of motivation. Many workers are encouraged and excited by the opportunity to learn a new skill and receive a certificate for a course they have attended. Have you ever considered sending your employees on one of the Grain SA Farmer Development Tractor Maintenance courses or one of the Introduction courses into the Basics of Cropping? Many chemical and fertiliser companies offer training courses and will up-skill your labourers to use their products. Personal growth and a sense of pride fulfil a basic human need.

People matter

There is a delicate balance which needs to be found between what is good for the business and what is good for the people employed to get the business done. It is possible for the farmer to build a thriving business and create a happy healthy working environment that is a great place to work. It is founded on the premise that people matter and acknowledges they are not only employees – they are individuals who need to feel appreciated. People like to feel that they have been heard and that their suggestions are important. As a manager you want individuals who do not want to stagnate but rather want to learn and grow. If you can’t offer your employees such opportunities you will find that the motivated individuals will look for greener pastures – and that will be your loss! If a team is treated well and is offered rewards in more ways than just a good wage, soon others will hear that your workers are happy and you will be able to build an excellent team who will add value and help you achieve your objectives.

A world-wide survey on top employers highlighted five common characteristics namely:

  • Inspired leadership;
  • A unique company culture and identity which employers are proud to be part of;
  • A focus on growing talent;
  • A strong sense of accountability which means everyone knows what is expected of them and performance is rewarded accordingly; and
  • Excellent HR practices which communicate the value of people and listens to employee feedback.

Being an HR manager is a non-stop journey which is constantly evolving but without a doubt, a strong workforce will always deliver a consistently better performance – and better financial results. Make the effort, it’s worth it.

Article submitted by Jenny Mathews, Pula Imvula contributor
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Publication: May 2016

Section: Pula/Imvula