Improve on-boarding for less employee turnover

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Editor's note: The following item appeared in the March 30 edition of Dairy Exec, a monthly newsletter published by Dairy Herd Management.

On-boarding is a technique to improve the way new employees are selected and trained, which, in turn, will decrease employee turnover and improve productivity and efficiency.

Charles Contreras, labor management specialist with PeopleFirst and Pfizer Animal Health, says it costs between $5,000 and $10,000 for each employee turnover, plus the strain on the employees left to fill in leads to lower morale and productivity. Therefore, lowering your turnover rate can definitely help improve your bottom line.

Contreras works with dairy farmers to understand their particular employee frustrations and gives recommendations to improve the workplace environment on the farm and create a culture of high engagement.

“Engaged employees are the ones that show up on time, take initiative, don't need to be told what to do — they know what to do, and you can tell they enjoy their job,” Contreras says. “Employees who are not engaged aren't necessarily angry or disgruntled, they just don't feel like what they do is important and they may not feel respected or cared about. It's important for managers to be self-aware that how they treat employees will affect how engaged an employee will be.”

Too many times on dairy farms, managers aren't given notice by employees, so they must find someone quickly to fill the position and normally the new person is thrown into the situation and must sink or swim, which can lead to mistakes. If you can change this cycle and improve the environment for new employees, you'll probably have to hire less people.

The first step to improve on-boarding at your farm is to formalize a consistent plan for how you will first recruit and evaluate applicants, and then train them once hired. Contreras recommends interviewing your best, most engaged employees — the ones you wish you had a dozen of — and ask them three things:

  • What does the farm do well that makes you enjoy working here?
  • Why have you been successful here?
  • What do you think others would like about working here?

These questions will help you pinpoint where your farm excels and, in turn, you can promote these successes to potential employees to attract the type of person that will enjoy working in that environment. Additionally, when interviewing potential employees, ask questions about their attitude and behaviors, since these are usually the reasons an employee is let go. Contreras also recommends interviewing applicants year-round, so when you have an opening you have a pool of candidates to fill the position quickly. If you make a good impression and show the candidate your farm is a place they would enjoy working, chances are they will come join you, regardless if they've already found another position.

Finally, once you have someone hired, it is important to have a checklist and to show them exactly what their responsibilities are and train them to do the job the way you want. That way, they know exactly what is expected of them, which will lessen their stress and improve morale.

If employees are trained better to start, the farm will profit from higher productivity and efficiency, fewer mistakes, and save on administrative fees. Contreras also suggests checking in with new hires regularly to make sure they're happy and feel confident in what they are doing.

For more information, you can take an HR certification class, research online or hire a labor consultant like Contreras.

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