HR on the Farm Can Improve Employee Retention & Engagement

Finding the right talent is one thing, but keeping that talent is another.

It’s not breaking news, but employers across the agriculture industry continue to struggle to find and keep qualified employees on the farm. According to a Journal of Dairy Science article published in September, lack of employee engagement and job satisfaction could be to blame. 

A recent study conducted by researchers from the University of Calgary and Michigan State University surveyed 168 employees from 12 large dairy farms across the upper Midwest. Their objective was to understand employee perceptions of human resource management strengths and weaknesses. They also looked at employee influence on employee satisfaction, retention of employees, willingness of employees to recommend the farm as a place to work and level of employee engagement on the farm.

The researchers found that employees who rated their employers higher for almost any management-related question were more satisfied and engaged in their jobs. Additionally, employees who rated “relationships” higher were more likely to have a higher rate of satisfaction, were more likely to intend to stay at their job and were more likely to recommend their place of work to others.

During their survey, the researchers discovered that female employees were less likely to provide ideas to their employers (compared with male employees), as were Spanish-speaking employees (compared with English-speaking employees). Differences between Spanish- and English-speaking employees were also present in measures such as intention to stay (shorter) and willingness to recommend the farm as a place to work (higher).

On a positive note, employees who rated themselves higher on their desire to learn and commitment to the farm were more likely to provide ideas to their employers, as were longer-term employees.

If employee retention is something you find yourself struggling with, Erika Osmundson, director of marketing communications for, offers up these nine tips to keep top talent on the farm.

  1. Make sure employees understand their job and what is expected of them.
  2. Be sure they have the tools necessary to be successful at their job.
  3. Ensure employees know to whom they report and others from whom they can get assistance.
  4. Provide feedback to employees, both positive and constructive, on a frequent basis.
  5. Build a relationship with employees that is respectful and supportive.
  6. Promote a positive image of the organization and build a recognizable brand through positive experiences.
  7. Explain how they and their job fit into the operation's overall objectives.
  8. Handle problems quickly and fairly.
  9. Reward for good performance -- remember verbal recognition goes a long way!

In conclusion, the researchers found that dairy farm management can improve employee retention and engagement through improved use of human resource management practices.