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How to Engage and Retain Farm Employees

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Anne Perisho

Farms are especially feeling the pressure of high turnover as the economy booms, and employees start to look elsewhere for development opportunities.

Two employees working in a field picking fruit off of bushes.

In today’s highly competitive job market, it’s becoming more important to keep your existing employees engaged and motivated to stay with your business. Loss of workers, especially workers with experience and tenure, can be a major hit to any business, but even more so in agriculture.  Farms are especially feeling the pressure of high turnover as the economy booms, and employees start to look elsewhere for development opportunities.

According to the 2018-2019 U.S. Agribusiness HR Review (download for free here), voluntary turnover rates have increased since last year, growing from 21.42% in 2017 to 27.71% in 2018, and employee training and development is the second greatest cause for concern in the industry. Even more concerning, competing for talent and recruiting is the number one concern in the industry. This means that retaining the employees you have is more critical than ever, as you may not be able to easily replace them if they leave. As the owner of a small farming business, you may be wondering how you can best engage – and retain – your valuable farm workers, especially if you don’t have the budget to increase salaries or give large bonuses.

Communication is Key

As with any industry, one of the keys to retention is making sure your employees feel valued and respected. If your workers feel that you care about them on a personal level, they’ll be more loyal to you in the long run. One way to do this is to provide – and request – frequent communication and feedback on job performance, expectations, and overall company goals. By looping your employees in and seeking their input, you’ll make them feel like they have a seat at the table and therefore are more committed to meeting company goals.

Culture and Values

Establishing a strong workplace culture and values is vital for employees. The type of workplace culture you develop will help you attract and retain employees that have similar values and will be more likely to go the extra mile for you. The agriculture industry is unique in that you see how your business benefits the population every single day. Giving your employees a strong sense of accomplishment and self-worth can be a huge motivation for employees, creating a positive culture that they are excited to be a part of will help them stick by you when times are tough.

Research programs that help enforce positive values like the National Dairy FARM Program (Farmers Assuring Responsible Management), which works with dairy farmers, the producer community and industry partners to demonstrate positive dairy practices, highlighting animal welfare and the importance of workforce development standards. There are also programs like the National Farmworker Jobs Program that develops programs for migrant and seasonal workers to help them develop their skills and provides other services to create job and life stability.

Treat Your Employees Like Family

Working on a farm means long hours and often coping with miserable weather conditions – after all, the work doesn’t stop just because it’s raining or sleeting. Rather than letting these conditions wear you and your employees down, find ways to turn them into bonding moments. Host team-building events and challenges to encourage your employees to work and laugh together. In the long run, encouraging your employees to have fun and lean on each other makes for a stronger team.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that while they may be your work family, your employees also have personal lives. Allowing them to maintain a good work/life balance and offering them options like a 401k plan or healthcare benefits shows that you care for them outside of the day-to-day work life.

Bottom Line

Employee engagement can be tricky to manage because your employees won’t all be motivated by the same things. While one employee may wish for a higher salary, another may want more flexible hours. The best thing you can do as a business owner is check in frequently with your employees and have conversations about how they are feeling towards your business. From there, you can pave the way to strong bonds, and employees that want to help you, and your farm, for years to come.

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