With livestock worker wages on the rise and the cost of employee turnover becoming increasingly expensive, employers across the agriculture industry continue to struggle to find and keep qualified employees on the farm. While the process of finding an employee who fits the bill remains challenging, taking time to showcase your farm’s culture and making them feel a part of the team could help your new hire stick around a little longer.
During the 2020 Leading Dairy Producers Conference held in Wisconsin Dells, Wis., Michelle Calvo-Lorenzo, technical consultant for Elanco Animal Health, touched on the importance of integrating new employees into your farm’s unique culture.
“The one thing that I always ask producers is, ‘What’s keeping you up at night?’ And about 99% of the time the answer is labor,” Calvo-Lorenzo says. “Labor is a problem that seems to either get worse or it’s a problem that farmers just can’t get fixed.”
Though training a new employee can be time consuming, hiring a new worker should be more than just having them show up, sign paperwork, then sending them off to do their job, according to Calvo-Lorenzo. Instead, producers should consider implementing an onboarding program to help new hires understand the importance of their role on the farm.
Onboarding is the process of having a new hire come onto the operation to become integrated within the farm’s culture and should be an ongoing practice that could last up to 12 months.
“Producers tend to focus on fixing or putting out fires with their current or seasoned employees instead of thinking about how to have a positive impact on the new employees that just joined,” Calvo-Lorenzo says. “Taking time to invest in your new hires can have a really profound impact on them staying longer at your facility.”
In order to immerse your new employees into your farm’s culture, Calvo-Lorenzo provides these three tips to help construct a reliable onboarding program.
Acclimate – According to Calvo-Lorenzo, acclimating new employees allows them to become a contributing member of the staff in the briefest period possible.
“What does acclimating an employee really mean?” Calvo-Lorenzo asks. “It means doing more than just showing them where the bathroom is and where they work. Actually talk to them about expectations and their specific role. Talk to them about how that role affects the entire team, how the team affects the farm and how the farm affects the community. Help them see that they are part of a bigger picture.”
Engage – To help employees enhance their productivity on the farm, Calvo-Lorenzo suggests engaging with them to find out their professional goals and working to help them achieve them.
“Employee engagement is really important because you want your employees to be comfortable with their coworkers and to have supportive relationships with their managers and supervisors,” Calvo-Lorenzo says. “Engagement helps reinforce the company’s commitment to helping the professional growth of that particular employee and by listening to what their goals are. Those types of efforts of engaging with the employee really go a long, long way.”
Retain – Monetary costs to replace an employee can be significant. Retaining new hires improves the opportunity for the farm to maintain its current employees and preserve their skills.
“I think sometimes we think about thee obvious quantifiable costs of losing employees, but we forget about the hidden costs of having lower productivity when you’re one person short,” Calvo-Lorenzo says. “When you lose a person, that person’s skills, knowledge and training also walk out the door. So, it’s important to think about those hidden costs from the start when you hire a new employee.”
While creating a successful onboarding program may seem overwhelming, Calvo-Lorenzo says that it is a rewarding process that allows you to keep your employees for a longer period of time.
“Keeping your employees content, happy and productive is more than just a salary,” Calvo-Lorenzo says. “It’s about culture and a work environment where people are valued, feel like part of a team and feel like they have long-term career goals that they can see themselves achieving at that farm.”
- 2019 Ag Labor Study
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- Dairy Labor Survey Shows Trends, Vulnerabilities