It’s not all beer & skittles (managing staff expectations)

Host: Yougawalla Pastoral Co.
Written by Jane Sale – Manager, Yougawalla Pastoral Company

Expectations are so hard to manage when you are working in a business relying on the weather, animals and machinery being operational. Then you’ve got cattle markets, living, working with and managing staff.  On top of all of this, I am a wife and a mother. I think hardest of all to manage is the expectations I have of myself in all these roles as well as what society and the community puts on me.

My blogs this week will centre around expectations, managing them, trying to not have them or trying to define them.  Sometimes a help but often a hindrance. When expectations are not met life can be disappointing. But is that because your expectations were not communicated effectively or you did not understand the expectations of others. Perhaps you set your expectations too high.

You see? It’s complicated, and certainly an issue worth considering. So, I am going to hit the ground running and start the process with a very hot topic for me and my generation in all industries it seems from friends in all walks of life I have discussed this with, and that is managing staff expectations and what your expectations are of them. I have had expectations that a person will fulfil a job that they have committed to because that is how I was brought up. Doing a job properly and seeing a job through when you are getting treated well and respectfully by your employer was drilled into me and demonstrated by my parents both as employees and employers when I was young.

Why are there no lovely Instagram shots of cleaning out the aircon.

I’m generalising here, but there seems to be a big difference in the expectation of our current generation over the last 4-5 years leaving formal education and moving into the workforce. They seem to be of the attitude that if they don’t like their job, they can just go and get another one. Is this just my generation getting older? Maybe we remember things differently to how we actually were?

I have seen throughout this industry in the last few years a drop in the age of people looking for a season’s work on a station.  In the past where it was more likely to be university leavers, it’s now school leavers. A problem that all my station manager friends have noticed is a rise in people leaving in the middle of the season. Many have said the reason is they are finding the job is not what they thought it would be, so they move on. Or, it’s not fulfilling some need that they have. Some that I heard of say nothing and just up and leave in the middle of the night. Whatever the reason we get left in the lurch, often after spending time and money training them formally and informally. It’s not great to find yourself stuck mid-muster looking for a new cook, boreman, home tutor or ringer – preferably one that has done some stockmanship, first aid, and safety training since we have already forked out over $10,000 to train all the staff you thought you would have for the full season.

A beautiful sunset – Not taken from a wizzbang camera as we all sat around having beers – but my phone as I raced away from the kitchen where I was preparing dinner for 15, because I glanced out the window to see a beautiful dusk outside.

Why is this more common than it used to be? I think although social media plays a great role in promoting our industry, it also has a downfall in that it mostly paints a rosy picture of what our life on station and jobs encompass. The generation moving into the workforce now have great expectations of the “McLeod’s Daughter” horses, sunsets, and romance scenario, not realizing the hot, dirty, hard work going on behind the sunlit dust and that the people in these online pictures of paradise are grinning from ear to ear because it’s the ultimate part of their job which is usually 24/7 hot, tough, and made fun because of their love of the environment and their resilience to see out the tougher days.

In a generation where they have been taught to speak up, you have many choices and constant banter and communication with friends through Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat etc. Being in isolation and staying in a job you don’t like today just isn’t on the radar for some and therefore the lessons learned and sense of satisfaction in completing a tough task will not be realized either.

After a lengthy road trip through the USA earlier in the year I realised that the options for young Australians are huge. Employment opportunities are high, as are wages. There are so many industries and education opportunities that other countries, even first world, don’t seem to have.

Have we created a generation that has expectations that are too high and therefore the real world is going to be a huge disappointment?

Finding a brown snake in your swag after spending a week camping out in it.

This is not to say that all young people are like this. We have had some absolute ripper employees over the years and we are completing the mustering season here at Yougawalla as well as a massive development program that we have been running at the same time. There is an awesome young crew about to finish up. The cattle and development, child minding, administration, teaching, cooking, domestic tasks – all roles have been covered and this has been a huge undertaking by all.  They have enjoyed the cattle work, picnics at the springs, rodeos, races and the amazing Kimberley sunsets but they have also endured the fencing, carting inventory and stock feeding, grading and siting in fencing lines, constant logistics, heat and isolation. They have moved through the season with determination and a great team attitude. They have come out of this year with a tremendous feeling of satisfaction and self-belief that comes with sticking out the tough times and fulfilling the commitments that they undertook. Not only for themselves but their reputation in the workforce. For one of the youngest crews they have achieved a lot. Our management teams on all our stations are also young. Couples that are all wise beyond their years and set an example of hard work, kindness and exemplary ethics that sets our staff, land and cattle in good stead.

Yard full of cattle looks great – now get to work and draft and let out the cows and truck the weaners, now load up the portable panel yard for the 4th time in 2 weeks and move onto the next muster.

So is it me, or our generation that have set the expectation that once you have explained the highs and made a particular point of outlining the lows of these isolated seasonal positions, we expect that our employees have understood what they have agreed to and will then stick it out? Well if this was my expectation at the start of the year, at the end of this season and from talking to many other managers, I will try for it not to be anymore. As I think it is unrealistic. How could a young adult straight out of school understand this kind of isolation, a big part of this being lack of or limited wifi and phone service. Some have been to boarding school and although have lived with peers of the same sex, the workers quarters are “mixed dorms” and people of all ages and from all walks of life and they have to work, eat and play together. If they were so eager and set on having this “gap year” and the euphoria of finishing school and heading North on an adventure, chances are they breezed over all the warnings of the tough times and isolation in full enthusiasm for the role ahead.

Will exhausted and Sleeping in the kitchen.

Getting chased by a grumpy ol’ girl.

So now I need to work towards changing their expectations as well as my own. We need to find a way to make it very clear that although there is adventure and fun, often romance (most with a whole lot of heartache) this is not a year out from the real world. This is our very real world. This is a serious business and a serious responsibility and something not to be taken on lightly. I am not really sure what a “gap year” means but if people think it is time out from the tough stuff in life there is a massive “gap” in communication. Because some days or weeks out here will make final exams feel like a horse ride in the billabong at sunset. (Got that image? Yes thanks to Instagram we have plenty).

Expecting someone to stick at any role out here when they are not happy will only bring down the rest of your employees. Conflict and the effort to support someone struggling will wear down even the happiest of campers when its 24/7 in a small community. I am slowly changing my expectations to take each individual as they come and not expect people to just get through, but try to manage them through, or if need be, out of an unhappy situation. I must also try to create a more realistic expectation for our future employees.

Great expectations can be a huge downfall and the ability to adjust your expectations like the ability to work with any change is key to all occupations in any industry and a necessity to leadership.

It’s all good – the dirty, hard and dusty side to station life.

Whale watching with the crew our annual mid to end of season gathering.