By Maggie Mouton
Thanks to an initiative by Hortgro and the Fruit Workers’ Development Trust (FWDT), social workers are currently boosting agricultural workers morale on 25 Western Cape farms registered with the Trust.
“The morale boosting one-day course fits in with busy farm schedules and covers at least four modules,” explains Petra Nel, PROCARE social worker with many years of experience on farms. “We do conflict management, cultural diversity, communication skills, relationship with employees, stress management, rational thinking, and – depending on the needs of the farm – may offer extra modules such as dealing with anger, all of which are pertinent to most work situations,” says Petra.
Since each farm is unique and has unique training needs, it is part of Petra’s job to assess those needs and to make the necessary selection of subjects covered. At recent training sessions for La Plaisante near Wolseley, a large contingent of agricultural workers responded warmly to interactive sessions and group work. Lessons were structured around overhead projector images that facilitate learning and help learners make associations with their daily environment. In the conflict management module, for instance, colourful animal images and catch phrases convey the different styles of responding to conflict, i.e. the lion with force, the tortoise with avoidance tactics and the teddy bear by smoothing things over rather than resolving underlying issues. Judging by the laughter in the group, everyone had much to identify with, as Petra helped them relate the lesson to typical problems that arise in the work situation.
The notes accompanying the lessons are brief and to the point with good insights gleaned from years of research into group dynamics and its effect on worker morale, amongst others. Interestingly the value of positivity and laughter are emphasised, with the latter being described as a tool to connect people and improve health – from lowering blood pressure to reducing stress hormone levels and helping heart conditions, as the notes affirm.
“You’ll be amazed at how many farmworkers suffer from stress, hence we use laughter as a learning tool and take care to underline the positive in our training, so the atmosphere remains optimistic and people feel free to express themselves and share their views,” confirms Petra who, after four years as La Plaisante’s mobile social worker knows everyone by name and elicits an enthusiastic and trusting response in class.
When people do not enjoy their work, there are underlying reasons that need to be addressed. Sometimes workers have to change the way they think about the situation in the first place. In this regard improved communication is key, and workers are encouraged to notice their own patterns and share insights in the group. Their awareness is vital as research has shown that there is a direct link between worker morale and productivity.
At the end of the training, the staff is encouraged to come up with a plan for the farm focused around the question ‘What can we do differently?’ and afterward the facilitator will give feedback to management on any issues that may have surfaced or that need addressing. The workers also fill in an evaluation form at the end in which they can request further training modules or ask for follow-up care.
The current training to improve staff morale is funded by the Fruit Workers’ Development Trust for the farms that have registered as members, and facilitated by HORTGRO. Thanks to a close working relationship with HORTGRO, PROCARE has been able to expand their programmes on farms in the past 12 years with other offerings that focus on the development and enrichment of the individual, with needs assessments taken into account. As part of their regular feedback to HORTGRO, they hand in the training attendance registers and workers’ evaluation forms along with stats, so that a close watch is kept on progress made with worker development training.