Journal of the NACAA
ISSN 2158-9429
Volume 13, Issue 2 - December, 2020

Money Doesn’t Always Matter, Low Cost Ways to Increase the Longevity of Southern Idaho’s Hispanic Agricultural Employees

Thomas, J. , Extension Educator, University Of Idaho
Packham, J., Extension Educator, University of Idaho
Ghimire, N., Associate Director of UI Extension, University of Idaho

ABSTRACT

Hispanics make up a large portion of agricultural employees in the U.S. Southern Idaho producers expressed concerns with the turnover of this working group. To address these needs, we deployed a survey to Hispanic agricultural employees. The survey gauged the importance of different work factors and the longevity of their employment. The five most important factors were: training, the way the owner/boss treated them, health insurance and salary. Our results suggest that an affordable way to increase the longevity of the employment of these workers is ensuring they are treated well and offered ongoing trainings.


Introduction

One essential group making agriculture possible in the United States are Hispanic farm employees. According to a 2018 survey, 64% of all farm laborers, graders and sorters are Hispanic; most originating from Mexico (United States Department of Commerce 2018). As a major agricultural state, Idaho utilizes many Hispanic employees to support the Agricultural industries of the state. The contribution of this group varies from year to year, but in 2016, migrant and seasonal farm employees accounted for 39% of farm employees in Idaho (Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs 2017.) In local Extension advisory meetings, multiple farm operators expressed concerns about the constant need to hire and rehire Hispanic employees. In 2018-2019, we surveyed Hispanic farm employees in southern Idaho to learn about the factors that were most influential in their decision to stay in or leave a specific job.

Methods

In 2018, we developed a survey in Spanish to learn more about the beliefs and behaviors of southern Idaho’s Hispanic laborers in agriculture with the approval of the University of Idaho Institutional Review Board. To make the survey easier to follow the survey was broken down into five sections. In the first four sections, respondents indicated how important each factor was in influencing them to stay in their job long term on a scale of zero to three (0:Not Important, 1: Slightly Important, 2: Important, and 3: Very Important). In the final section participants responded on how likely a specific factor would influence them to quit or change jobs. These were also on a scale of zero to three (0: I don’t care if this happens, 1: This makes me want to quit slightly, 2: This makes me want to quit, and 3:This really makes me want to quit). The five major categories and factors under each category are listed in Table 1.

Table 1: Hispanic Employee Survey Questions

The following are factors that hispanic employees attending extension trainings were asked to rate in regards to their influence to work in a position long term.

Work Factors

Salary

Ability to work overtime

Travel distance to work

Trainings to learn new things

Opportunities to advance and receive better work positions

Work Benefits Provided by Boss or Company

Health Insurance

Housing

Transportation to Work

Meals

Work parties

Extended vacation time in the Winter

Coworker Relationships

The way my boss treats me

The way my coworkers treat me

The way the owner of the company, farm or ranch treats me

Relatives and Friends

My relatives work at the same company

My friends work at the same company

Factors that Influence You to Quit your Job

Working more than 8 hours per day

Working weekends

Working early in the morning or late at night

Working in repetitive or boring tasks

Carrying Out physically demanding labor

 

Surveys were deployed at University of Idaho Extension workshops where Spanish programs were offered including the Idaho Potato Conference and Idaho Worker Protection Safety Trainings. These were held in the cities of Pocatello, Mountain Home and Caldwell. Before presenting, we explained the scope of our study and participants were given the option not to participate. To increase participation, a raffle for gift cards was held at each training for a randomly selected participant. Surveys were delivered physically on paper since participation for this group in surveys delivered via cell phone was particularly low at previous workshops.

Results

A total of 158 participants responded and returned the survey. Most participants responded to each of the factors listed in the survey. If a participant did not answer a specific factor, then their response for that factor was not included in the data analysis. For each factor, an average mean score was calculated and presented in descending order in Table 2.

Table 2: Factors Influencing Worker Longevity

The following shows the results of our survey ranked from highest to lowest average mean score as indicated by participants.

Factor

Response (Mean)

Being offered trainings to learn new things

2.7

The way the owner of the company, farm or ranch treats me

2.66

Health Insurance

2.64

The way my boss treats me

2.61

Salary

2.6

Opportunities to advance and receive better work positions

2.57

Transportation to Work

2.3

The way my coworkers treat me

2.2

Extended vacation time in the Winter

2.16

Ability to work overtime

1.95

Housing

1.71

Travel distance to work

1.59

My friends work at the same company

1.47

My relatives work at the same company

1.39

Meals

1.2

Work parties

1.19

Working weekends

1.12

Working early in the morning or late at night

0.97

Carrying Out physically demanding labor

0.9

Working more than 8 hours per day

0.83

Working in repetitive or boring tasks

0.61

 

Discussion

Producers wanted to know how to best allocate their resources to keep their employees for the long term. Most operations assumed salary was the most important factor, but four other factors were rated slightly higher in importance. These data suggest that workers greatly value how they are treated (e.g. trainings, treatment by supervisors and owners) slightly more than monetary factors such as salary or health benefits.

The highest ranked factor was training for the acquisition of new and better skills. These data suggest that operations should view training their employees as a small investment in their own company by increasing the skills, knowledge, and satisfaction of their workforce. Trainings will typically cost the operation admission fees, time, a venue, and meals. The important thing about trainings is that, compared to increases in salary or health benefits, the cost is relatively low. Utilizing services like Cooperative Extension can be a great way to put on trainings at a reasonable cost. If managers do not train the employees they want to keep, they will likely be training new employees. Further investigations should be done to see how many and what types of trainings are most beneficial to this group. It would also be beneficial to learn more about the viewpoints of Hispanic employees who do not attend trainings who may have differing opinions. Though we do not believe this was a significant factor for this group because this group has indicated in previous internal surveys that the main reason most of them attend these trainings is because their boss encouraged them to or they were paid to go.

The second and fourth most important factors to employees were how they were treated by the owner of the company and how they were treated by their boss. The way coworkers treated them or whether their family or friends worked on the same operation were much less important to this group. By creating a welcoming environment where diverse employees are accepted and treated warmly, farming operations may keep their employees for the long-term, saving money spent on recruitment and training new workers. Time and resources should be spent to help supervisors/managers understand that the way they treat their workers can have a significant impact on the workforce. Surveys or interviews with employees and how they are treated may be helpful for some operations if anonymity is maintained, and employees feel comfortable sharing their honest opinions. It may also be helpful for owners to take time to become familiar with the culture of Hispanic employees and with ways to help them feel supported. Further research is warranted to learn what types of behaviors are desirable to this group to maintain a long-term working relationship.  

Our results show this group of employees is very comfortable carrying out difficult labors including repetitive tasks, working long hours, carrying out physically demanding labor and working late at night or early in the morning. Three of the most important factors are related to how they are treated as individuals. Our data suggests that operations could benefit from helping their employees feel more valued by increasing their skills and knowledge and by working to make supervisors and owners more conscious of how their employees are treated. Doing so may increase the longevity of employment, creating a successful long-term team; otherwise workers may look for a place where they feel more welcomed and valued beyond their salary.

Literature Cited

Justen, Haynes, VanDerZanden, and Grudens-Schuck (2012). Insights from Spanish-Speaking Employees in the Iowa Horticultural Industry.  Journal of Extension (On-line), 49 (6). Article v49-6rb8. Available at: https://joe.org/joe/2011december/rb8.php

United States Department of Commerce, Economic Research Service analysis of data from U.S. Department of Commerce (2018). Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey.

Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs (2017). The Hispanic Profile Data Book for Idaho 4th edition.