Become a preferred employer

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It's no secret that employees from various companies talk, and that they compare notes. So, your reputation in the community depends a great deal on how your employees view you. And, that can help or hurt you when it comes time to bring new employees on board.

In a tight labor market, agricultural employers must compete with other businesses. And, in small communities, where job markets continue to tighten, this makes the process of hiring, and keeping qualified employees even more difficult.

One thing you can do to ease the process is to develop a reputation as a preferred employer.

Dairy manager, Dan Monson, Spring Grove Dairy in Brodhead, Wis., already knows the benefits of developing a reputation as a good employer. He currently has a file of 200 applicants who would like to work at the dairy. Monson prides the operation as a friendly work environment where full-time employees get a regular salary and work reasonable hours. That way, no one's watching the clock and that stability offers employees piece of mind.

When employees have pride in their place of employment, they talk favorably to others about where they work. This word-of-mouth becomes a recruitment tool and helps build the dairy's reputation as a good employer and as a good business in general, says Monson.

Here's how to develop your reputation as an employer of choice.

Provide good benefits
"You have to start by paying a fair wage," says David Sumrall, president and chief operating officer of Aurora Dairies.

Second, you have to provide benefits, such as insurance and 401K.

Many businesses now provide benefit packages to entice employees to work for them, and you have to do the same if you want to compete in the labor market. Begin by gauging what others in your area pay their employees. Also, check with your local chamber of commerce or extension service to see if there are any wage-and-benefit surveys available for your area.

Recruit the right person
Building a positive reputation as an employer begins with the hiring process. For Meghan Hauser, co-manager at Table

Rock Farms in Castile, N.Y., this is the key to any human resource strategy. "We take the entire interview process very seriously," she says. "We'll start with writing a new job description. I write down some basic information, then I'll ask the people who do the job to critique it so that I've described the job accurately."

Writing an accurate job description is a good first step, says Bob Milligan, professor of agricultural resource and managerial economics, Cornell University. That way, employees know what to expect once they begin the job.

When recruiting or promoting employees within, remember to design jobs with employees in mind. "Capitalize on employees' interests and the advantages they see in farm work," says Bernie Erven, professor of agricultural economics and noted personnel management expert at Ohio State University. For example, some people enjoy working with animals, while others prefer tinkering with machinery.

Provide a good work environment
It's been more than a year and a half since Table Rock Farms in New York has had to fill a position. Part of the reason for the low turnover is the farm's willingness to delegate responsibility and let employees make decisions within their area of expertise. That creates a sense of importance and makes people feel challenged at their jobs.

However, some jobs on the farm are viewed as less-than-desirable. Then, it is up to managers to make those jobs less of a chore. Some ways to do this: keep a reasonable number of work hours per day and per week, keep equipment in good repair, keep facilities well-lighted and ventilated, train employees, offer flexibility in scheduling and provide regular communication with the supervisor.

To keep jobs from becoming too boring, try to keep work varied so that employees use a variety of skills, adds Erven.

Whenever possible, design jobs so that employees have responsibility throughout a given area, such as all aspects of calf raising rather than just feeding the calves.

Let employees know why their jobs are important. Then give employees the responsibility and freedom to do the job.

"Finally, make feedback part of job design," says Erven. "Well-designed jobs anticipate the need for communication.

Most employees want to know what is expected of them in the job, how they are doing, how they can improve, what latitude they have in changing how they do their tasks, what should be discussed with a supervisor, and when the discussion should occur."

Build a team mentality
Knowing that their opinion matters makes any person feel appreciated, and being part of a team creates a sense of belonging. At Aurora Dairies, headquartered in Bell, Fla., creating that team mentality takes some effort, considering that there are more than 200 employees at various dairies in several states. But, the managers serve as motivators to inspire employees. To keep things consistent, a set of protocols was designed so that every employee is on the same page in terms of understanding what is expected.

How can you build a quality team? Erven offers these four stages to team building: forming, storming, norming and performing. "In the forming state, team members break the ice with each other, become oriented to farm goals and begin to exchange ideas. Storming is a stage of conflict, open disagreement and the surfacing of conflicting ideas. Norming follows from resolving conflicts, then harmony and unity arise. By the performing stage, the team solves the farm's problems for the good of the farm business, and the team is involved in decision-making."

Milligan adds that supervisors and leaders need training, too. "You would never let a cow be milked by someone who did not know how to milk a cow, but many businesses let their people be supervised by individuals who know little about supervision."

Good managers and supervisors are important.

Sumrall believes that when you lose an employee, you lose part of the team and it's partly a failure of management. From that, you need to learn what you can do the next time around to keep that team member, whether it was lack of training or lack of communication or some other problem.

With good management and supervision, you can create a good team of employees. Just don't fall into the trap that you can't find good help anymore. "There are plenty of good people who enjoy working. The trick is to let them know who you are," Sumrall adds.

Kim Watson is a free-lance writer in San Antonio, Texas.


14 tips to build a reputation as an outstanding employer

Bernie Erven, professor of agricultural economics and human resources management expert at Ohio State University, offers these 14 tips to help build your reputation as a good employer:

1. Like, enjoy and appreciate employees.

2. Use written job descriptions.

3. Provide training.

4. Show trust.

5. Catch people doing things right.

6. Develop pride.

7. Celebrate successes.

8. Communicate clearly and often.

9. Compensate fairly.

10. Provide competitive monetary benefits. This includes both cash wages and monetary benefits, such as health insurance, paid vacation, paid sick leave, retirement programs, housing and utilities, and overtime pay.

11. Provide informal benefits. These include low-cost or non-monetary rewards, such as recognizing good employees, personally greeting each employee each day, and telling employees "thank you." For some ideas, refer to the book "1001 Ways to Reward Employees" by Bob Nelson.

12. Promote from within.

13. Make the business family-friendly.

14. Be proud of advancing employees.  



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