After recruiting and training your staff, you want to keep hold of them, but how? Jez Fredenburgh speaks to farm employers and employees about how to boost retention.
You spend money, time and effort recruiting good people to your farming business.
But then, just when they have the hang of the job, they leave.
Why? And more importantly, how do you stop it happening again? Paul Harris, managing director of Real Success, which provides HR advice and staff management training to the agricultural sector, says: “Staff are one of the single biggest financial investments a farm business will make, and it can cost up to £15,000 to replace an employee.
“Planning and executing effective staff retention takes time, money and commitment.
But those farmers who embrace this challenge are the ones securing and retaining the best employees.”
Improving your communication and gaining a deeper understanding of the personality styles of your team members are soft skills which will help improve staff retention, says Paul.
Annual reviews, investment in training, decent working conditions and ensuring accommodation is to a standard your family would live in are also simple steps which can show staff they are valued.
Jack Griffiths and his father own and run two dairy farms in Gloucestershire, including the home farm, Taynton Court Farm.
Soon this will increase to three dairy enterprises, taking cow numbers to 1,600 and staff to nine fulltime and nine part-time employees.
The business has several long-standing members of staff who have worked for the family for more than a decade.
Jack says: “We’re specialists and invest in training so our staff have a challenge and can find out what they like doing.
As they gain new skills and responsibilities, they can climb the ladder with us at the home farm, then we promote them to their own dairies.
We also pay well and try to offer a good work-life balance.
We all spend a lot of time together and it is important we get on, so we hold social events where partners and children come and we can all do something outside of farming.
“The most important thing is to give people something to work towards.”
Alec Heron started off at Taynton Court farm 26 years ago as a young herdsman, before working his way up to farm manager about 12 years ago.
He manages the home farm, milking 900 cows.
Alec says: “I feel like things are always moving and improving in the business.
“The owners back the staff, so if I say something isn’t right and needs changing, for example a piece of machinery which would help make the job less manual and time-consuming, they listen.
I feel like I’m able to have an influence.
“I’ve worked for the business a long time.
I have reasonable hours, a good work-life balance, lots of training and have had a chance to progress.
Rupert Major milks 630 spring-calving cross-bred cows on 313 hectares (773 acres) in Staffordshire.
He employs five full-time staff, plus three seasonal calf rearers and a part-time college student and apprentice.
To keep a high rate of staff retention, Rupert says the business aims to be a great employer.
He says: “Will Sanders, the farm manager, and I are always focused on how well we are managing the team and how happy they are.
“We believe ‘to be informed is to be involved’, so we have a weekly team meeting where we review the week gone and explain the plan for the week ahead.
This includes explanation of the current grass position and animal health challenges.”
Good planning and communication are key, says Rupert, as is resourcing the farm properly and training staff so they can work to a high standard without big time pressures.
Farm manager Jonathan Kerr is employed by Velcourt, and manages 900 hectares (2,224 acres) of arable land over two farm businesses in Wiltshire.
“One of the attractions of a career with Velcourt is the fact they will give you training, experience and responsibility early on and push you to develop yourself,” says Jonathan, who has been with Velcourt about six years, after starting as an assistant farm manager.
“This means I feel confident and capable to do my job, which in turn gives Velcourt the ability to take on new businesses knowing there is a flow of people ready and keen to become farm managers.” The loyalty between company and employee is a major reason Jonathan says he has stayed with Velcourt.
Heather Wildman, agricultural business consultant and change motivator, gives her top tips on retaining staff:
For most people, being happy and fulfilled at work is not about the money, but about having a purpose, knowing what they need to do and why, and having the skills and training to successfully fulfil these responsibilities.
It also costs nothing to say ‘thank you’, ‘good job’, ‘well done’, but can make a person feel great.
This does not mean having the newest and most expensive facilities or equipment, but rather it’s about creating a business which employees are proud to say they work for.
This rests on the reputation of the business in the people/owners, in the management and welfare of the livestock, the care of the steading and its staff, land, machinery, environment, wildlife and interaction with the local community.
Individuals know where they fit into the team and how their job impacts the bigger picture, regardless of whether they are the relief milker, tractor driver, calf rearer, cleaner, contractor, manager or owner.
Everyone is part of producing what leaves the farm and this is must be recognised.
Staff have personal responsibility and are able to manage and impact their work and results.
Some people are happy to be told what to do and how and they consistently do this each day, while others need to be able to influence their work.
Get to know your staff’s work styles and fit them into the right roles and tasks.
Don’t underestimate how important this is if accommodation is provided.
It must be up to a standard you and your family would live in.
Some staff prefer to live in caravans to keep their overheads down, but find out their needs and don’t assume.
Some people are happy to prioritise their job and work long hours so they can climb the ladder.
Others prefer to have set roles, few responsibilities and minimum hours so they can do their job, but then leave and switch off.
We need both, but beware of burnout for the keen beans and ensure holidays, rest and time off for all.
Before recruiting, review the business, what skills it needs, who might want to work more or less and whether that can be resourced from within the team.
Then ensure employment contracts and job descriptions so everything is clear.
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Articles will showcase young individuals working in agriculture and help agricultural businesses and farms understand recruitment and staff retention challenges and practical ideas they can adopt to mark the evolving changes which are happening in the careers, skills and training area.