High Performers in the Field — Berry Interesting

By Rick Bell

Apr. 1, 2015

When we talk about our high performers, they’re usually impressing managers in a traditional office setting and in familiar fields like tech and finance.

Yet these employees exist in other fields too. And like their office-bound brethren, some contract agricultural workers in northern Baja California are now being wooed with incentive packages following a tense strike against regional strawberry growers and strawberry distributor Driscoll’s of the Americas.

Workers are returning to the fields after winning concessions for some 4,000 field hands that include pay raises of 20 to 40 percent. The minimum pay scale for a day’s work will increase by 20 percent, according to a release from Berrymex, one of the largest growers in the San Quintin area of Baja, and Driscoll’s.

The farm workers sought “an increase in the minimum salary (currently around 100 pesos or about $6 per 12-hour day) to 300 pesos; provide access to basic government medical care programs, as is their constitutional right; stop the abuse of the elderly in the fields and stop sexual harassment against female workers by farm staff; and revoke and cancel contracts with government-paid unions,” according to a story published in the San Diego Reader.

While it appears that workers’ grievances are being addressed, what actually caught my attention is that the growers are offering incentives to their high-performers. For high-performing contract workers paid by the crate of picked strawberries, the raises could increase their earning capacity from 35 to 40 percent, which Driscoll’s said would benefit workers “by increasing their earning opportunity to an average of $5 to $9 per hour.”

Offering incentives in the agriculture industry is nothing new. I found this from the University of Kentucky Department of Agricultural Economics written by Steve Isaacs in 2002 titled “Keeping Good Farm Workers Through Incentives”:

“There are some things that labor management analysts have identified as motivation factors. Among these are feelings of personal accomplishment, challenging or rewarding work, recognition for achievement or a job well done, a sense of importance to the organization, access to information, and involvement in decision-making. These are all the kind of things that make the employees feel like they are part of the business — things that will spark that inner motivation.”

Similar stories appear on various university website, including this from Virginia Tech University in 1997 titled Incentive Plans for Farm Employees:

“The most common category of incentive plans are based on physical production over and beyond an agreed upon base level, for instance, higher percentage calf crops, increased milk production or higher quality milk, more bushels per acre, etc. These types of plans are easy to understand and payments are easily computed but the primary disadvantage is that production costs may be disregarded in achieving the higher production levels. Another shortcoming of this method is that some unfortunate circumstance over which the employee has no control (drought for instance) may eliminate or greatly reduce the incentive payment.”

And while Driscoll’s and the Mexican berry growers are late arrivals to the party, at least they’re grasping the value that financial incentives can provide for its workforce and the company’s bottom line. Higher productivity and a better-paid, engaged workforce isn’t exclusive to office-bound finance and tech workers.

Rick Bell is Workforce’s editorial director.

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