There goes another one down the road. It seems to be more and more difficult to keep them with your herd. No, I'm not talking about your cows. I'm talking about your new employees.
As farms have grown from small dairies to large businesses, they have increasingly had to rely on employees with no previous agricultural experience. In some cases, farm workers never had a desire to be a part of the rural environment, but it was the job available when they needed work. These entry-level positions are often in the milking parlor where the work is seen as hard, dirty and unglamorous with low pay. For those reasons, it can be difficult to find good help and often even harder to keep those you do find. But after the individual is hired, it’s your turn. It’s your responsibility to make employees believe they made the right job choice and to help yourself by reducing the turnover rate among newly hired staff.
So, how do you make a new employee feel they made the right choice? A new employee requires five fundamental things in a new job:
1. Explanation: What is my role? Why is it important?
At the interview give the applicant a clear job description (including working conditions) and help them understand the importance their job is to the operation of the dairy farm. It is critical to let people know the schedule has to be filled every day of the year.
2. Education: What knowledge or skills do I need?
Prospective milkers often do not arrive with a great deal of formal education, but that does not mean we should not take initiative to educate them. If you start the new employee with the idea this is a place where you learn and expand yourself, they are more likely to stay.
One common fear is educated employees will take their new skills and move on to another job. The reality is, if you don’t teach people they will quickly get bored, and you will lose them anyway. It is important to encourage the new employee in the education process to help them feel part of the team.
3. Training: How do I carry out my role?
I have seen dairies take someone with no cow experience and throw them into the parlor to see what happens. That is not training! The situation leaves people feeling lost, intimidated and frustrated. Now, more than ever, our dairies are under scrutiny. You have an obligation to the industry to make sure employees are properly trained and know how to handle a cow. There are good training resources available. Be sure to use them.
4. Evaluating: How will my performance be measured?
Everyone wants to be seen as doing a good job. Therefore, everyone needs to know how their performance is measured and what performance level is acceptable. It has to be a simple evaluation method conducted on a very regular basis. Performance milestones are also critical to ensure employees are on track for success and should be celebrated when reached.
5. Reporting: What feedback will I receive?
Keep lines of communication open. Employees can feel in the dark about their job performance because they do not receive feedback about their quality of work. Or if they do, it may not be constructive feedback. This creates unease in the workplace. Feedback needs to be informational and instructional for the employee to improve. If someone is not reaching their defined objectives, it needs to be brought to their attention immediately with a clear direction of how they can improve and how long that improvement should take. Employees also need to know what the ramifications are if they do not start reaching their objectives.
Company policy should be for each person to introduce themselves to new employees, so everyone is aware when a new person starts. Plan a welcome for the new employee. Assign one person to greet the new employee, show them around the farm and give them insight into how the team functions.
Assign someone to answer the new employee’s questions and listen to his or her concerns and suggestions. Entry level does not translate into unimportant. Take time to really acknowledge how much you value this new employee. Work with them and mentor them. You can quickly become an important part of the person’s life – giving them more than a job, giving them a place to belong.
Provide the new employee with the tools needed to succeed. Then give them time to succeed. Dairies frequently look at cull rate in the first 30 days after calving and adjust management to keep that number as low as possible. In the same way, measure turnover rate in staff in the first 30 days. Consider the training and other resource cost to the dairy. Be willing to adjust management
to keep the employee cull rate low as well.