Current Progressive Dairy digital edition

1508 PD: Designing jobs that motivate and challenge dairy employees

Bernard L. Erven Published on 16 October 2008

Managers have the opportunity to influence the motivation of employees through design of their jobs.

Well-designed jobs help accomplish two important goals: getting the necessary work done in a timely and competent manner, and motivating and challenging employees. Both the business and the employee benefit from successful job design.



Poorly designed jobs leave to chance whether the expected tasks will get done in a timely and competent manner. Poorly designed jobs, moreover, are likely to be discouraging, boring and frustrating to employees. Even if employees would otherwise be enthused, competent and productive, poorly designed jobs almost certainly lead to employee disappointment.

Managers have the responsibility of designing jobs. If they ignore this responsibility, employees will design their own jobs. Not surprisingly, the jobs designed by employees are more likely to be attuned to employee experiences and preferences than to the goals of the business. Neither the business nor the employees are long-term winners from managers defaulting job design to employees.

Job design starts with determining the duties, tasks and activities for each job. The process of determining the content of jobs is called job analysis. Job analysis is sometimes considered the foundation of human resource management. The content of jobs, job descriptions, hiring, orientation and training are all built on what is learned from job analysis.

In this [article], we will consider four keys to the design of jobs that motivate and challenge employees: job analysis, job design, characteristics of desirable jobs and fine-tuning of jobs through job enrichment and adjusted work schedules to further increase their capacity to motivate and challenge employees.

Job analysis
Job analysis is a process of obtaining the information necessary for job design. Job analysis requires efficient collection of data about existing jobs and needs that new jobs are to address. A manager has several important sources of data about job needs. In most businesses, the people now doing a job understand it best. Their experiences and insights are critical to understanding what the job is, the extent to which it is meeting the needs of the business and opportunities for an improved design.


A cautionary note to keep in mind is that employees may fail to understand that job analysis is a process of gathering data about the job, not an evaluation of the person doing the job. Managers need to explain carefully to employees that the goal is to improve their jobs, not find a substitute for annual performance reviews. Supervisors can add additional understanding of a job. In many farm and ranch businesses, managers and supervisors have often done many of the jobs in the business. Therefore, their experiences in the job are a valuable source of information.

Job analysis should generate data about tasks, duties and responsibilities of the person in the job. For a milker, the tasks, duties and responsibilities might include: with one other person, prepare and milk 300 cows; examine cows for health problems; clean milking equipment and milking parlor after milking; and perform preventive maintenance on the milking equipment. The equipment that will be operated and tools used are also included in job analysis. For an officer manager, the list of equipment and tools might include a computer, copy machine, fax machine, paper shredder and telephone.

The job analysis also shows the knowledge, skills, abilities, experience and licenses necessary for the job and the performance standards for the person doing the job. For a truck driver, this list might include at least two years of experience in over-the-road driving, valid commercial license and no moving violations during the last two years. The performance standards might be safe operation of the truck, no moving violations and timely delivery and pickups as assigned.

Determination of physical demands is also important for some jobs, e.g., be able to lift a 50-pound box to a height of 48 inches and carry the box 20 yards.

It is difficult to illustrate the importance of job analysis with a few simplistic examples. Perhaps a set of questions can give an added sense of the importance of job analysis. Note that all of the questions are trying to clarify what is or is not a part of the job being analyzed.

• Does the officer manager need to know how to design a computerized payroll system or will the person in the position simply be doing payroll with a system already in place?


• Is the truck driver responsible for routine maintenance of the truck?

• Is the head milker responsible for annual performance evaluations of milkers or are these to be done by the herdsperson?

• Does the crop manager help plan the year’s cropping plan or just carry out the plan developed by the farm manager?

• Is the cow manager responsible for decisions about which cows to cull or is this the responsibility of the herdsperson?

• Who is authorized to buy parts for machinery repair?

• Who is authorized to answer questions raised by a newspaper reporter who makes an unannounced visit to the ranch or farm?

One can easily see from this short list of questions that the importance of job analysis grows as a business grows, becomes more complex, and involves more employees. At some point in size and complexity of a business, managers must either take a more systematic approach to job design or deal with the many problems of inconsistency across employees, supervisors and crews.

Job analysis also paves the way for determination of policies, procedures and rules to guide employee decisions. Job analysis and the resulting job design do not provide all the guidelines for employee behavior. Policies, procedures and rules complement job design.

Job design
After the job analysis has provided the necessary job data, managers are ready to design jobs. The job analysis provides an important reminder to keep employees in mind as jobs are designed. Job design is the structuring of jobs to improve the efficiency of the business and improve employee satisfaction. Uninteresting or boring jobs will cause problems.

Employers can capitalize on employees’ interests and the advantages they see in farm work. To illustrate, people who love animals are motivated by the opportunity to work with animals. Jobs emphasizing animals attract such people. Some people like machinery much more than animals. Others enjoy repairing machinery more than operating it. Some people like office work; others want to be outdoors. Job design provides guidelines to help get appropriate fit between employees and their jobs.

The results of the job analysis make it possible to design jobs while taking into consideration the tasks that must be accomplished for the business to succeed. Managers can add consideration of what individuals want in their jobs. Sometimes minor changes in job design can dramatically improve a job in the employee’s view, e.g., changing a calf feeder’s job to include, or no longer include, explanation of calf care to farm visitors. Another example is asking the employee to work closely with the veterinarian to improve calf health instead of simply reporting problems to a supervisor who in turn talks with the veterinarian.

Job design cannot overcome the fact that no job is perfect. Farm jobs have some disadvantages managers need to address when designing jobs. Each of the following job qualities responds to often-stated disadvantages of farm work: reasonable number of work hours per day and per week, proper equipment in good repair, well-lighted and ventilated work areas, training, some flexibility in scheduling work hours and regular communication with the supervisor. Paying little attention to these common concerns about farm jobs makes it almost certain that employees will not be satisfied with the jobs.

Job characteristics
Anticipating what job characteristics will help motivate employees is important in job design. Managers can do their best to give each job the following five key characteristics.

First, design jobs whenever possible to encourage employees to use a variety of skills. Remind yourself of the reasons that assembly line jobs are boring. Standing in one place using only one or two skills doing the same thing repeatedly is not satisfying for most people. One reason that many workers like varied work is that they get to use a variety of skills.

Second, design jobs whenever possible so that an employee does a total job, e.g., all aspects of calf raising as contrasted with just feeding or a milker position that includes more responsibilities than just milking. Even such a simple task as repairing gates may be more satisfying if one person has the responsibility to do everything including determining what parts are needed, buying parts, taking the gate apart, replacing parts, reassembling and testing to be sure everything is in order.

Third, design jobs so that the employee understands the significance of his or her job to the farm. Why is power washing important? Why is calf raising important? What contribution is the person making by doing a good job with dry cows? What problems are caused later on if [calves] are not given proper care? The employee should have answers to these kinds of basic questions.

Fourth, design jobs so that each employee has responsibility, challenge, freedom and the opportunity to be creative. This requires the supervisor or owner/operator of the farm to delegate some authority. Delegation can be a powerful tool for improving a job. “You can do the job however you want as long as you get results.” Such powerful words, such effective delegation and such important responsibility are likely to have positive impacts on employees.

Finally, make feedback a part of job design. Well-designed jobs anticipate the need for communication. Most employees want to know what is expected of them in the job, how they are doing, how they can improve, what latitude they have in changing how they do their tasks, what should be discussed with a supervisor and when the discussion should occur. Employees rarely complain about too much communication with their supervisor. They often want more communication.

The tradition in farm and ranch work is to expect the person to adjust to the tool. A “one size fits all” mentality is common. The size may refer to an operator’s seat, chairs for a staff meeting, volume of music in the milking parlor or length of handle on a tool. The message is, “You need to adjust.”

Ergonomics turns the “one size fits all” mentality on its head. Ergonomics asks how the machine can be made to fit the person rather than how the person can fit the machine. Examples include: adjustable operator seats, flexible lighting, variable temperature controls, padded floors, safety equipment, work areas adjustable to appropriate heights and angles and comfortable yet durable work clothes.

An increasingly diverse work force has made ergonomics more important. Men and women may use the same equipment. A 65-year-old man 5 feet 6 inches tall may take a turn operating a machine usually operated by a 20-year-old man 6 feet 6 inches tall. Clearly, it makes no sense to expect all employees to adjust to an unadjustable machine. Job design can contribute to employee motivation by taking advantage of the many advances that have been made through ergonomics.

Job enrichment
Sometimes employees want more from their jobs than is now possible. Job enrichment is a response to employees ready for more responsibility, variety and challenge. Wanting more is only part of what is required to make job enrichment a success. Employees must be able to handle the enriched jobs that are being developed for them. Managers need to consider carefully each employee’s physical capabilities, mental skills, organizational competence and capacity for learning before inviting an employee to take on an enriched job. Forcing more on employees than they are capable of handling will likely hurt the business and frustrate the employees.

The usual dimensions of job enrichment in the farm and ranch setting include the following:

• Make a job more challenging by making it more difficult.
The job may be made more difficult, for example, by including more problem-solving, increasing the number of people with whom cooperation is necessary, increasing the complexity of tasks included in the job and providing less specific directions and rules.

• Assign challenging new tasks that the employee must learn to do through self study, off-site training, on-the-job training, experimentation and/or contact with others who have the necessary expertise.

• Delegate responsibility and authority to an employee.
Some examples include delegated responsibility and authority to improve a part of the business such as [calf] mortality, resolve a specific problem such as employee turnover or gather the necessary information for determining the best alternative for replacing a major piece of machinery.

• Ask the employee to become the farm’s expert in an area of interest to him or her, e.g., corn varieties.

• Provide the employee with performance reports about enterprises or major cost categories and ask that he or she provide analysis and suggestions on how to improve performance.

Job enrichment is a tool for improving employee motivation through satisfying a need for more challenge. Job enrichment pays more attention to employee needs than to needs of the business. In particular, job enrichment responds to employee need for achievement, self-esteem and self-fulfillment. Job enrichment is likely to be counterproductive when employees do not have these higher- level needs. Such employees are likely to see job enrichment as little more than employers trying to take advantage of them and frustrating them unnecessarily.

Job enrichment has compensation implications. One would expect that an employee who takes on an enriched job with no loss in work quality would realize some financial benefit. However, the impetus for job enrichment is increased motivation through more challenging work rather than higher pay through more responsibility. Job enrichment recognizes that non-monetary rewards are important to job satisfaction.

Furthermore, to have a sense of progress in their careers, many employees need more than gradually increasing compensation. Job enrichment meets the need for nonmonetary progress by providing a steady increase in challenges and professional development.

Work schedules
The eight-hour work day or 40 hours per week is the standard for most of the country’s labor force. For several reasons, this has never been the standard for farm and ranch work. The Fair Labor Standards Act exempts farm and ranch work from overtime pay requirements when the workweek exceeds 40 hours. Thus, a farm or ranch employer can have a standard workweek of six, ten-hour days and have the same hourly pay rate for all 60 hours. The work ethic common to farming and ranching also contributes to acceptance of long workweeks. The seasonal nature of agriculture requires an all-out effort during some weeks of the year. Consequently, work schedules have been dictated more by how to get the work done than by seeking ways to increase employee motivation.

Some employers outside agriculture have made adjustments to traditional work schedules. Most common are flexible beginning and ending times, a compressed workweek and job sharing. These adjustments remain uncommon in agriculture. Nevertheless, farm and ranch managers sometimes have the option of changing traditional work schedules.

Flexible beginning and ending times, usually called flextime, eliminate common beginning and ending times for employees doing the same job. Instead, employers permit employees to choose daily starting and quitting times. To illustrate, a manager with five employees might have two beginning work at 7:00 a.m., one beginning at 8:30 and two beginning at 9:30. The manager might also offer flexibility in both time and length of the mid-day break. Quitting times would also vary greatly.

Flextime obviously cannot work in many situations. A crew working on a multi-person task would need to have common starting and quitting times. For example, harvesting might require a two-person crew. Milking might require a three-person crew. On the other hand, employees may have individual responsibilities that do not overlap with the work of other employees, thus making flextime a possibility. A farm office with a single employee might not open until 8:00 a.m. even though all other employees start at 6:00 a.m.

Employees are generally enthusiastic about flextime because of the control it gives them over their work and nonwork schedules. Employers like the positive impacts of flextime on productivity, tardiness and absenteeism but not the increased difficulty of monitoring workers.

The compressed workweek has a reduced number of days worked each week with a corresponding increase in number of hours worked each day. A compressed workweek might be four days, each 12 hours long, rather than six days, each 8 hours long. The compressed workweek is incompatible with many jobs and the stamina of some employees. Nevertheless, it does provide an alternative to the traditional five- or six-day workweek. Employees with compressed workweeks report liking three days off each week.

Job sharing involves two or more people sharing a single job. The most common form of job sharing is a full-time position being converted to two part-time positions. The two part-timers split the full-time compensation. Each person typically works three days out of five, two days alone and one with the other person.

There are some potentially attractive applications of job sharing to farm employment. For example, a dairy farm that has a morning milking and an evening milking could use job sharing. Three part-time people might be hired for the morning milking instead of one full-time person. The three part-time people would be hired and trained together. Then they would be responsible for their own scheduling to be sure that one of the three was available for each morning milking, seven days per week, year around. The three could even be given the responsibility for recruiting and training a fourth person if necessary. Experience is so limited with job sharing in agriculture that an employer would benefit from finding a nonfarm employer and employee with job sharing experience to gain their insights about the pros and cons.

Concluding comment
Job design is a tool for helping to motivate and challenge employees. Like all other motivational tools, it fails to provide a magical answer for all employees in all situations. Nevertheless, inattention to job analysis, job design, job enrichment and work scheduling means that motivation problems will be created that need not be created.

Employees are likely to appreciate an employer’s efforts to make their jobs as motivational and challenging as feasible. Many employees will welcome the opportunity to help improve their jobs. They will see the benefits for themselves and for the business. Traditional jobs can be changed. An employer’s imagination and creativity applied to job design have the potential to yield impressive results. PD

—Excerpts from Ohio State University Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics website

Bernard L. Erven
Department of Agricultural
Environmental and Development Economics
Ohio State University