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1206 PD: The good boss

Shaun Duvall Published on 11 December 2006

I have been a Spanish teacher for 20 years. A while ago, I was asked to help local dairy producers with their Mexican employees. I started working and have never, ever looked back. I love what I do. As I gain experience in this world of milking cows, scraping estiércol (es-dee-air-col) or manure and pushing up feed, I am beginning to form an image of what makes a good patrón (pa-drone) or boss.

The role of the patrón in Mexico has a long history. Historically, the patrón was expected to take care of his employees. In turn, he expected loyalty from his employees. From what I see in my work, the employees who have a good patrón are very loyal to him. They identify with the patrón more so than they do with the business.

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“El patrón” in Mexico means much more than an employer. It also means someone who has made a certain commitment to his or her employees. I have seen them function as employer, boss, dad, social director and activities director, among other roles. All of this means that if you have employees from rural Mexico and they call you the patrón, or patrona, there is a little more expected from their Mexican viewpoint than there is from an American perspective.

The patrón in Mexico is a boss, but he is also someone who is expected to take care of his employees if they have a family or personal need. That may mean loaning money, helping with getting a car or repairing a car, etc.

Remember, if your employees have limited English-speaking ability, getting a car to the mechanic is a daunting task. Be ready to help with these types of things. Decide what amount you can give or will loan, and be ready to stick to that. Some may say no money; others may say $1,000 per employee. You need to decide and then let your employees know.

What constitutes a good boss? I talked with several Spanish-speaking employees recently. These are some of their comments about what makes a good boss.

•We have horas fijas (or-us fee-has) or a fixed schedule. We know exactly what our duties are. We know to whom we must be responsible and to whom we must go for help, etc. If there is one person, it is much easier.

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•We like a boss who helps us when he or she can. It may just be getting a telephone, but that is big for us. If they can make our lives easier, that is important.

•If our patrón can go to Mexico to see and meet our families, that is the very best thing of all. Family to us is everything. If our patrón cares enough to meet our families, that means the world to us.

If he or she can begin to understand our culture, begin to speak our language as we begin to speak his or hers, that is huge. If he or she can go to my community, see my home and see what my paycheck is producing in Mexico, then I am proud. I have status in my community, and I am somebody.

Patrones, learn how important you can be to the employees of your operation. PD

SUPPORT Shaun Duvall Director of SJD Language and Culture Services

1. Do the “little things” matter more to Spanish-speaking employees than American employees? Why or why not?

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I don’t want to make generalizations, but little things do make a huge difference. I guess I’d answer this way – anytime you as an employer can show care and concern in any way for any of your employees, it is going to make a difference.

2. Beyond a regular paycheck, what ideas have you seen dairy owners use to help “take care” of their Hispanic employees?

Help them become a part of the community as much as possible. Introduce them to your banker, your local dentist, doctor, etc. Take them grocery shopping, if they don’t have a driver’s license. Help them with things like getting furniture or beds for their house. Take an interest in their families. Put up a bulletin board and have them put pictures of their families, hometowns, etc.

Feature one employee a month. Interview them and take time to talk to them. Offer English classes on site at their convenience. Help them get a place to play soccer, or some kind of leisure time activity. Ask for their ideas. They might not give any right away; however, with time they will offer suggestions, and they most likely will be good ones. These are just a few of the things that have made a big difference on some of the dairies where I work.

To contact Shaun, e-mail her at

Shaun Duvall, Co-director, Puentes/Bridges Program and Director of SJD Language and Culture Services for Progressive Dairyman

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