Retaining Good Help on the Dairy

Published on Wed, 12/08/2021 - 2:36pm

Retaining Good Help on the Dairy

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 As with everything else in today’s turbulent and constantly changing ag job market, it’s important to retain valuable, hardworking and proven employees. Doing that involves keeping them motivated, engaged and, of course, showing that they are valued. Dairy is no different than many other industries reliant on manual and skilled labor in this regard.

The loss of workers, especially those with valued tenure, skill and experience can hit small businesses especially hard. Farms are especially prone to the pressures that come with a high turnover. Often this is the result of employees feeling the need for additional opportunity and professional development – pay isn’t the only reason that employees seek out other avenues.

The personal and professional lives of each of your employees bear a strong link to their job performance and enthusiasm. How contented they are in their current position not only impacts their work, but it also radiates to their family, friends and fellow employees. It will also affect your farm’s overall reputation.

“At its core, the goal of work-life balance is overall stress reduction. It is a proven fact that taking the time to learn how to make room for balance can benefit both your employees’ wellbeing and overall work output,” writes Lori Culler in an AgHires blog post, How to promote work-life balance in agribusiness: 5 tips.

Why are they leaving?
Dairy farming, with all of its intricacies and difficulties, can pose a lot of obstacles on a bad day. Things out of your control – poor weather conditions, necessary overtime hours and difficult emergencies – can all have an impact on your employees and quickly bring down morale.

Managers need to recognize this and be vigilant to mitigate the taxation of those incidents as much as possible. It’s also important to recognize and reward good work and dedication during these unexpected upsets.

As is the case with any other workplace, farmworkers require understanding leadership that sees and acknowledges their potential, commitment and progress. It is very easy for new or young employees to get discouraged if they don’t get opportunities to advance or participate in work they feel is meaningful.

The same applies when workers feel that their ideas and concerns aren’t acknowledged or even listened to. Remember, while not everyone has the same level of experience, everyone on your team has different perspectives and ideas that could offer merit.

Monetary rewards and incentives can be another form of encouragement – but this drives some individuals more than others. Whether or not there is room in the budget for this type of promotion, remember that all employees (if they say it or not) have a desire for some form of acknowledgment and appreciation of their long hours. In these cases, you need to consider other ways in which you can express this rather than doing nothing at all.

What’s a dairy to do?
Getting new hires started on the right foot – and following through – is a key element in long-term job satisfaction.

Molly Norris, a Human Resource Generalist, explains in a blog for Family Farms Group that job candidates and new hires want an understanding and honest representation of their roles and responsibilities right off the bat. They also like knowing how their role on the farm contributes to an overall vision.

This means giving clear instructions, making clear who to report to and setting expectations. Individual goal setting done alongside leadership, as research has shown, is what some of the best workplaces have in common.

“Facilitating open communication,” writes Culler, “is one of the most effective and straightforward ways for both employers and employees to get feedback about what is working in the workplace and what is not.”

Communication doesn’t always need to be done face-to-face, chances are you and the rest of your team only have limited time for that. This is where an employee manual or protocol sheets can be extremely helpful. Even seasoned workers can benefit from having some sort of reference to fall back on should they ever encounter an unusual situation or need to resolve an issue on their own. This type of aid is especially important when it comes to animal health and welfare.

When goals are hit or an issue is solved, think about ways to show appreciation and reward. Keeping farm employees happy can be as simple as treats in the break room, a celebratory luncheon or even off-farm activities.

Long-term non-monetary incentives are, of course, employee benefits. Small farms may have more limited options when it comes to things like insurance, investments or retirement. However, there may be some room to incorporate competitive paid-time-off hours or another structure to ensure adequate work-life balance. When you are flexible and understanding, always within reason of course, your workers can feel you care about their well-being and personal lives. This is a great morale boost and fosters a trusting workplace relationship.

It’s the small things
Always remember, the consistent small things you do for your employees matter. Holiday gifts and bonuses, the occasional lunch or breakfast, and acknowledgment of major events happening in their personal lives are all ways to make employees feel a personal connection with your farm.

Career-wise, remember the significance of promotions, change in job titles and raises. Not only are these incentives to continue good wok, but they can also make individuals feel like they are really a part of the business. Piling on additional responsibilities without tangibly reflecting can lead to discouragement and disinterest.

When employees do leave for whatever reason, exit interviews can be a great way to improve your management for the next wave of hires. You can also hear what the strengths of your farm are and get an interpersonal perspective on the highs and lows of employment.

“Encourage feedback by asking for it routinely,” writes Culler, “and when necessary provide the opportunity for anonymous input. This shows you value their opinions and perspectives and increases employees’ sense of personal investment in the business.”

Remember that being a good employer requires a high degree of self-evaluation. While it is true that bad employees can destroy a positive work environment, but bad management is a surefire way to guarantee a negative environment even with the best employees.