Finding and keeping farm employees

Informative job description and positive workplace are key contributors

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Farmers across Ontario are struggling to find and keep good help.

Marlene Paibomesai, a dairy specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, and Mark Ferguson, business management specialist with OMAFRA presented tips on attracting and keeping great employees at the 2020 SouthWest Agriculture Conference held in Ridgetown recently.

Why it matters: Farm operators who are able to attract good workers and hold onto the best ones will save time, reduce operating costs and have more efficiently run operations with better-trained workers.

“It’s worth your time, effort, resources, and money keeping (employees). At the end of the day, losing an employee cannot only cost you financially. It can cost your productivity,” says Ferguson.

Farm operators must offer competitive wages and clearly outline the expectations of the position.

“The No. 1 thing you need to do when looking at a job description is manage the expectation of the person you are employing for what the roles and responsibilities are on the farm,” says Paibomesai.

Mark Ferguson and Marlene Paibomesai, OMAFRA specialists, say that working to retain employees is cheaper than having a high turnover.
photo: Jennifer Glenney

A clear job description includes the expectations of the position, as well as education, licensing requirements, working conditions and the hours and shift information.

“A very strong job description gives the (potential employees) a great indication for what (the employer) is expecting from that person,” says Paibomesai.

Compensation is a large factor when attracting new employees.

A Progressive Dairy Operators survey found that seven per cent of applicants demand more pay than what is offered.

Farmers and business operators should have regionally competitive wages and employees should receive salary progression and performance bonuses.

Retaining employees

To retain employees, creating a workplace where people want to be is vital.

“Positive workplace culture improves teamwork, raises the morale and increases the productivity and efficiency of the operation,” says Ferguson.

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The workplace culture includes the values, belief systems, attitudes and assumptions shared by individuals in the workplace. The leadership and management of the operation greatly influences the workplace culture.

Building a good workplace provides employees with a sense that their employer cares about them, they know what is expected of them and are recognized for good work.

“It’s a balance, a reciprocal relationship between farm employee and employer. That everybody knows what is expected of one another and they work in that balance,” says Ferguson.

The key is to find out what motivates each employee. Motivators can include safe working conditions, fun working environments, celebrating successes, job security, effective communication and room for growth.

“Rewarding for performance helps to build a better team and build the interaction amongst employees,” says Paibomesai.

Bonuses can be non-monetary and include health and dental benefits, flexible hours and the use of tools.

“Non-monetary benefits are things that may cost your business a bit of money, but it is not going into the overall wage of that employee,” says Paibomesai.

Managing farm employees

Leadership and management go hand-in-hand in farm businesses. Being accountable is important for good management. Admitting when something is wrong and is the fault of the manager is important.

Allowing employees to grow and providing opportunities outside of the workplace will benefit the employee and the operation.

Coaching the employees, fostering continuous improvement and working sensible hours are all important.

“Take time to sit down with your staff, go through and evaluate their individual tasks that they have in their job description on what they are supposed to be doing and evaluate based on that,” says Ferguson.

Maintaining good staff is not only good on the output side of the equation, it is also good for operating costs. Labour experts estimate that it costs 150 per cent more than an hourly worker’s wage, and 250 per cent more on a salary position, than what it costs to hire new employees.

“Improving that employee’s retention and putting a little more to engage with employees can have a positive impact, helping to save you money at the end of the day,” says Paibomesai.

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Glenney

Jennifer lives on a farm in Cayuga, Ontario and has a lot of experience in the many aspects of agriculture.

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