As with many questions, the answer is “it depends.”  We start by looking at two hypothetical but realistic employees.

John has worked on the farm for 20 years. During his first two or three years, he mastered the skills required in the position.  He continues today in the same position and using the same skills.

Paul has worked for a different farm for 20 years.  He also mastered the required skills in the first two or three years.  Today, he remains in the same position because the farm has had no opportunities for promotion.  Paul, however, has learned new skills and has been rewarded with increased responsibility (and compensation).

Longevity in the Workplace – Does It Hinder Growth?

  • John is still implementing processes that were cutting edge around the turn of the century (2000). John is often considered a “good employee” because he does his job, does not create problems, has a reasonable compensation package, and is unlikely to leave until he retires.  At this point, John and employees like him are comfortable.  However, typically they are not especially motivated or engaged. Unfortunately, his value to the farm is falling as his skills are increasingly out of date.
  • Paul, on the other, has increased his value to the farm and is likely motivated and engaged.  Paul will increasingly be an asset to the farm due to his increasing responsibilities and his tremendous experience.  Paul’s growth is likely a result of his self-motivation and encouragement from farm leadership.

It is easy to conclude that John is a longevity challenge, perhaps even a disaster, while Paul is a longevity success.  I am reminded of the question: “Does the employee have twenty years’ experience or one year’s experience repeated twenty times?”  The answer here would be that John has one year’s experience repeated twenty times while Paul truly has twenty years’ experience.

Let’s look outside of agriculture.  John and Paul are “first line employees,” meaning they do not supervise other employees – they do the work of the farm. McDonalds almost certainly has more first line employees than any other business in the world.

McDonalds has always viewed its excellent training as one of its competitive advantages. In recent years, they have highlighted training and learning in their recruitment.

While writing this article, I stopped at a McDonalds on my way to visit a client.  My breakfast placemat was completely focused on the educational opportunities of working at McDonalds.  Included was the tagline “Creating Opportunities Together,” congratulations to two local winners of McDonalds National Employee Scholarships, and several statements extolling the educational opportunities of working at McDonalds.

Analyzing the situations of John and Paul and the actions of McDonalds, we can conclude that a, if not THE key, to our longevity question is that longevity is valuable when the employee continues to learn.

The remainder of this article contains three ways to ensure that your farm or other business capitalizes on the longevity of employees:

Understand motivation

For your business to succeed in producing high quality products, you must understand the biology of the animals, crops, etc. To retain employees and capitalize on their longevity, you need to understand motivation. Modern research on human behavior (psychology) and brain function (neuropsychology) sheds great light on how to motivate individuals and a workforce.
The answer is surprisingly simple, but challenging to implement.  As with many animal and crop research results, the answer forces us to abandon generally accepted ways of thinking. The answer is that people are moved to be productive, engaged, and fulfilled when their psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence are fulfilled.

The three needs are:

  • Autonomy: Our human need to perceive we have choices.  It is our need to feel that what we are doing is of our own volition.  It is our perception that we are the source of our own actions(1).
  • Relatedness: Our need to care about and be cared about.  It is our need to feel connected to others without concerns about ulterior motives.  It is our need to feel that we are contributing to something greater than ourselves(1).
  • Competence: Our need to feel effective at meeting everyday challenges and opportunities. It is demonstrating skill over time. It is a sense of growth and flourishing(1).

Three points related to John and Paul jump out from these descriptions. Paul’s continuing learning and growth has certainly enhanced his competence and thus his motivation.  Paul’s increasing responsibility has increased his perception that he has choices and, thus, his autonomy and motivation. Both, likely, have high relatedness, but, interestingly, John’s relatedness comes from being “comfortable” and thus does not necessarily increase his motivation.

Professional development and career orientation

Employees, especially, long term employees, seek career enhancement by contributing to the farm/business and its success.  They also seek to grow personally and in their career.
To meet the needs of the farm/business and the long-term employee, you need a mutually beneficial partnership with the employee.  This requires more than short-term training.
Answer these questions:

  • How can his or her strengths and experiences best contribute to our business today and in the future?
  • What can the farm gain from these strengths and experiences?
  • How can the farm/business best contribute to the employee’s continuing growth and career advancement?

Employees are more likely to stay when a) they perceive that the position fits well with and advances their career aspirations, b) they see interest in their career advancement, and c) the business has career advancement possibilities and career oriented compensation packages.

A “STAY” meeting

An important component of successful longevity is an opportunity to discuss future opportunities with employees.  I recommend an annual meeting, perhaps in late fall or early winter, with the objective of discussing future opportunities for increased responsibilities – maybe even a promotion – and to develop plans to prepare for the advancements.  This meeting is often called a “STAY” meeting; its desired outcome is an increased interest by the employee in staying with your farm/business.  Specific outcomes of the meeting include updating the job description, a professional development plan, and an increased understanding of future opportunities.

Take Action

As you finish reading, write down two or three actions you will take to ensure that you have more employees like Paul and fewer like John.

(1) Susan Fowler in Why Motivating People Doesn’t Work  … and What Does.

This article appeared in the May 2017 edition of ‘LearningEdge Monthly.’ To subscribe to the newsletter, please visit http://www.theedgecoach.com/subscribe.html.