What We Can Learn From Cows About Getting More Out of Employees

Sometimes in the hunt for research, you come across a study that is too good to skip, regardless of how tangential the headline is to what you are actually looking for.

The study in question from a few years back: “Happy cows produce more milk.

What does that have to do with recognition and improving the work experience?

As it turns out, researchers with Newcastle University decided to investigate the relationship between dairy farmers and their herds, particularly in terms of how different “best practices” or behaviors would relate to milk yield.

Both cows AND humans like to be treated nicely

Of all those practices, farmers who “call their cows by name” and treat them as individuals experienced statistically significant gains in milk production of 3-5 percent compared to farmers that do not.

According to the researchers, “cows like being treated nicely by humans,” which reduces fear/stress and the resulting biological impacts that has on productivity and interactions with the farmer.

Happiness with how the cows are treated is related to productivity.

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The parallels to human work experiences aren’t exactly one-to-one, but they aren’t all that far off either. Check out the video below that discusses some of these parallels in more detail (email subscribers may need to click through):

Finding recognition in unusual places

Recognition and improvements in individual treatment are part of this larger fabric of interactions at work, apparently whether they take place in a pasture or an office.

I don’t think we’ll see much uptake in social recognition among farm animals (for one, the research on peer-to-peer relationships among cows is lacking, but at least researchers will soon be looking more closely into “assessing an animal’s state of mind”); nevertheless, it’s an entertaining thought for April.

What lessons on recognition have you come across in unusual places?

Derek Irvine is one of the world’s foremost experts on employee recognition and engagement, helping business leaders set a higher vision and ambition for their company culture. As the Vice President of Client Strategy and Consulting at Globoforce, Derek helps clients — including some of world’s most admired companies such as Proctor and Gamble, Intuit, KPMG, and Thomson Reuters — leverage recognition strategies and best practices to better manage company culture, elevate employee engagement, increase retention, and improve the bottom line. He's also a renowned speaker and co-author of Winning with a Culture of Recognition. Contact him at irvine@globoforce.com.

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