Ag Retailers: Gauging The Work/Life Balance

After some internal brainstorming at Ag1Source and discussions with CropLife Editor Eric Sfiligoj, we decided that a basic survey to get real world comments and results from sales agronomists within retail organizations could be a great resource for employee retention strategies in the next crop year. We wanted to understand the thoughts and opinions of retail agronomy employees after the spring rush was immediately done and all emotions were in clear focus. The intent was to ask questions about spring stress, their thoughts on how their employers treated them and their desire to change jobs or employers.

In June, Ag1Source put our recruiters on the phone and completed 238 surveys with sales agronomist respondents. Our pool of respondents was spread across 38 states.

This article — as well as two upcoming articles in CropLife — will dissect the results and bring a focus on salespeople and how people in that position feel about their manager, their responsibilities, how the organization takes care of them and whether they want to stay in that role at all.

We’ll focus on work/life balance and overall attitude coming out of spring. We first asked the respondents how this year compared to previous years. With the early start to spring and the calm weather most experienced, we expected the quality of life to be a bit higher. This was actually the case, with 60.9% of the respondents finding this spring more tolerable than prior years.

Our next question asked them how their employer could have improved working conditions (hours, activities, expectations, etc.) this spring. Many answers to this question mentioned there probably wasn’t much that could be done because it’s the nature of the business. However, another very common answer was “hire more people to spread the load” or “bring on more seasonal help” and lastly “as margins allow hire more help.”

Outside of additional people or seasonal help, a few answers truly pointed to the employees just wanting to be recognized for their hard work or being provided tools to succeed. Some examples given were “buy outdoor uniforms, I’m tired of ruining my clothes.” Another respondent recommended bringing in food for supper on a long day for the crew. A last response — given many times over — was “treat their people as if they are appreciated!”

A final group of responses to handling the long hours were around tactical management issues. For instance, one respondent wanted his retail organization to split sales and operations so they both could be more effective. In some cases, it was noted that inventory was either out of position or short and it hampered the employees’ ability to be efficient. The final tactical management comment was to have the location managers be strong on agronomy technical knowledge so they could answer the questions instead of relying on the salesperson to get back to the customer, thus slowing down the entire decision process.

Finding Patterns

When we stepped back and looked at the data as a whole set, a clear pattern was revealed. Across multiple questions, we started to see three distinct populations of respondents appearing. The first group is clearly very satisfied with their company, the role they’re in and how the company handles the demands of spring. This group is also promoting their company and furthering the “employee brand” we talked about in a previous article. Statistically, this group comprises about 20% of the sales agronomists we spoke with.

The second group of respondents comprised 45% of the population and this group was neither satisfied nor unsatisfied with spring. While they may not be out actively hunting for a different job, they are tired and looking for solutions and wouldn’t ignore a good opportunity if one presented itself. This group is ripe for management to be asking questions of them about how we could do next spring better or how our processes could be streamlined. They need to feel appreciated, feel like things are moving in the right direction and believe that there is opportunity with their current employer.

You don’t want employees in this group to leave your organization because they feel the “grass is greener” with another organization, when in fact, it likely isn’t. You just missed the opportunity to explain that to them!

The last group of respondents is the portion we wanted to ferret out from the beginning of the survey brainstorming. How upset and irritated are the employees that will seek out change? Fully 35% of our respondents were negative, wanting to change jobs and, in many cases, wanting out of retail. We as recruiters talk to many of these people and we’ve noticed a trend that is not too surprising. In June, when nerves are frayed and people are tired, negativity goes up because work becomes a grind with little or no recognition from management. Whether it be the workload or the desire to be with family, many of these individuals will seek other employment.

Reaching Out

Many managers unfortunately assume that a disgruntled post-spring employee needs to leave. We would advise looking at these three groups of employees and communicating with each group using a different message. For your positive or “brand building” employees, cheer them on and ask what other tools they need to keep on making a difference. For the 45% group of neither happy or unhappy, coach them through a thinking process for how they can change their behaviors and prepare for next spring to make it easier for the team.

Lastly, for the 35% you identify as negative about the entire experience, a more thorough conversation may need to be had. You need to “head them off at the pass” and meet with them before they have time to act on seasonal feelings. Perhaps they have ideas that would resolve their concerns and give them reason to stay. Perhaps the show of concern from a manager is the shift in attitude they need. Give them ownership in how your team operates in the spring. Have them be part of a team to review spring and create solutions (for example hiring more isn’t a solution — the solution is how we improve financially so we can hire seasonal help).

The ag industry does a great job training top sales people to recognize complaint and customer concerns as potential opportunities. An agronomy department manager can increase their success and employee retention by using that same approach. The complaints and concerns of spring can be your best opportunity to retain your employees and find the future leaders of your organization — you just need to leverage that opportunity and have those conversations.

Leave a Reply

Employees Stories

EmployeesAsmark Institute Dedicates New Training Center To Ford West
August 6, 2014
The Asmark Institute plans to recognize the retired industry leader's years of service to the fertilizer industry at the new state-of-the-art facility in Owensboro, KY. Read More
EmployeesSyngenta: ‘Take Charge’ Of Farm Safety
June 4, 2014
Syngenta and health officials warn of four health-related challenges in agriculture and how they can be managed. Read More
EmployeesHead Start Program Prepares The Next Generation Of Ag Retailers
April 7, 2014
Illinois Fertilizer & Chemical Association, in partnership with the Asmark Institute, are offering the Head Start Program to prepare students for work at ag retail facilities. Read More
EmployeesThree Keys To Employee Success
March 3, 2014
Increasing employee performance becomes much easier when managers follow these three simple things. Read More

Trending Articles

FertilizerFall Fertility 2014: Forecasting Fertilizer Use
September 7, 2014
Great crops this year have tapped the soil, and fall work is definitely called for, but how challenging will that get? Read More
CropLife 100CHS To Build $3 Billion Fertilizer Plant In North Dakota
September 5, 2014
The fertilizer plant in Spiritwood will be the single largest investment in CHS history, as well as the single largest private investment project ever undertaken in North Dakota. Read More
EquipmentNew Holland Acquires Miller-St. Nazianz
September 3, 2014
The assets of Miller acquired as part of the transaction will become part of New Holland Agriculture, a CNH Industrial brand, building on a successful four-year partnership between the two companies. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires East Kansas Chemical
September 2, 2014
Ranked 82nd on the CropLife 100, East Kansas Chemical will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
MAGIE 2014 ShowStopper
EquipmentJohn Deere Again Wins MAGIE ShowStopper Award
August 25, 2014
For the second consecutive year, John Deere was honored at the Midwest AG Industries Exposition (MAGIE) for its new R4045 sprayer. Read More
ManagementExpert To Discuss Farmland Value, Rent At Farm Science Review
August 18, 2014
While cropland values in Ohio increased in the past two years, they have remained flat in 2014, declining in some cases, according to an Ohio State University agricultural economist. Read More

Latest News

Equipment2014 Product Of The Year Voting
September 19, 2014
Many new products were introduced to the ag retail marketplace this year. From this group, CropLife IRON and its consulting partners have selected five finalists for the Product of the Year award. Please cast your vote today to help us determine the winner. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Crowd Tops 2013 Show
September 19, 2014
The 52nd annual Ohio State University Farm Science Review welcomed more than 130,000 farmers, industry professionals, FFA students and agricultural enthusiasts during the three-day event. Read More
Seed/BiotechUSDA Approves Enlist Following Rigorous Review
September 18, 2014
Dow AgroSciences now awaits EPA registration of Enlist Duo herbicide, the companion herbicide to the Enlist traits, which is expected in the near future. Read More
BlendersYargus Appoints New Plant Manager
September 18, 2014
Steve Shaffer will direct and coordinate daily operations at the company’s Marshall, IL, manufacturing plant, where the Layco line of material handling equipment is produced. Read More
CropLife 100Pinnacle Acquires Kansas-Based Cedar Ridge Supply
September 16, 2014
Cedar Ridge Supply will operate as part of Pinnacle's Performance Agriculture brand. Read More
StewardshipSecretary Vilsack Highlights Innovative Conservation Ef…
September 15, 2014
Nearly $16 million in Conservation Innovation Grants (CIGs) will be awarded to 47 organizations to help develop cutting-edge ideas to accelerate innovation in private lands conservation. Read More
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Responds To Cargill Lawsuit
September 15, 2014
Syngenta believes that the lawsuit is without merit and strongly upholds the right of growers to have access to approved new technologies. Read More
Equipment2014 Farm Science Review Launches Mobile App
September 15, 2014
Smartphone and tablet users planning on attending the 2014 Farm Science Review can now download this year’s customized mobile application. Read More
CropLife 100Southern States Coop Grower Sets Georgia Soybean Yield …
September 15, 2014
Georgia farmer Randy Dowdy's soybeans yielded an astonishing 110.66 bushels per acre, crushing the previous record of 82 bushels-per-acre. Read More
NIMITZ Treated vs Untreated pepper plant
InsecticidesNIMITZ Nematicide Approved By EPA
September 12, 2014
NIMITZ is a novel, non-fumigant nematicide with simplified application features, user safety and an active ingredient with a unique mode of action. Read More
InsecticidesMarrone Bio Innovations Receives Patent For Chromobacte…
September 11, 2014
The patent is the first step for MBI in developing a commercially viable product to inhibit infestations of corn rootworm larvae across America and other regions. Read More
HerbicidesDow AgroSciences: Keeping The Pipeline Stocked
September 11, 2014
Dow AgroSciences is embracing product diversity to drive the company’s future. Read More
CropLife 100CHS Is Official Partner Of New St. Paul Ballpark
September 10, 2014
The new ballpark in St. Paul, MN, officially became CHS Field with Twin Cities-based CHS Inc. revealed as the naming rights partner. Read More
EquipmentHagie Honors Farming Stewardship Leaders
September 10, 2014
The Iowa Farm Environmental Leader award recognizes Iowa farmers as environmental leaders that are committed to healthy soils and improved water quality. Read More
Precision AgPlantBeat: Your Plants’ Pulse In The Palm Of Your Han…
September 10, 2014
A new agronomic monitoring and recommendation service from Phytech could rewrite the book on real-time plant health status monitoring. Read More
StewardshipCCAs Making Headway With 4R Program In Lake Erie Wester…
September 9, 2014
Certified Crop Advisers are implementing the 4R Nutrient Stewardship Certification program in Lake Erie's Western Basin to improve water quality. Read More
MicronutrientsMicronutrients Going Macro
September 9, 2014
Between 2014’s fantastic growing conditions and a heightened awareness on plant nutrition, the major players in micronutrients are gearing up for another big year. Read More
Crop InputsFMC Announces Cheminova Takeover
September 8, 2014
FMC Corporation today announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire Cheminova, a wholly owned subsidiary of Auriga Industries. Read More