Now you have a strong farm team, how do you retain them?

Farm worker on a tractor

By Andrew Hawkins

It isn’t uncommon to hear people talk about how to find skilled and efficient farm workers, but less is said around how to retain the workforce once they’ve been hired. It’s about time we change this!  

In an industry where factors such as the weather, commodity prices and consumer actions are near impossible to control, staff retention is one essential element that farmers can influence.

After all, having the wrong number of staff, losing key people to other businesses or becoming a complacent employer can all lead to a loss in profit, time and resources. Not to mention, the impact all these factors can have on staff morale and the overall general standards of the business.

Overcoming the pressures of farming

It’s well documented that behaviour can be directly influenced by communication, or lack of it. If you’re communicating poorly with your staff, they are undoubtedly going to feel unappreciated, undervalued and unheard.

This concoction of feelings creates a recipe for disaster. Why should staff work hard, or be motivated, if they aren’t being recognised for their time?

Granted, being the star employee is much easier said than done. It can be far too easy to get lost in the routine of managing livestock, the ever-changing weather and the unpredictable nature of farming. You get caught up in the day-to-day and as a result, fail to hear or see key messages and feelings conveyed by one of your employers.

In the midst of great stress, small issues or mistakes can also be blown out of proportion. Far too often do farm managers let the pressures of farming weigh them down, which can lead to disruptive and sometimes explosive communication with the rest of the team.

How to communicate effectively

Your role as a leader or manager is to progress your people management skills. Managing people in rural businesses can be the biggest challenge, so it’s important that you learn, practice and develop this skill set.   

It’s a combination of communicating, understanding, negotiating, resolving conflict and most importantly, listening. It’s about striking the right balance and learning what is the best approach to take.

Yes, you need to have authority but don’t underestimate the power of listening to what’s going on. Focus on asking questions and not just issuing orders, with the aim of training people to think for themselves and take ownership of what they are doing. This makes business sense and will empower your staff, leaving them to feel valued.

Perhaps think about giving every member of your team an area to take responsibility, even if it’s only a small thing. As a manager, this will test your skills when it comes to deciding how much responsibility you give them, how much support you’ll need to offer them and how much you can leave them alone.

When it comes to communicating as a team, the most important thing you can do is set up short weekly meetings. Make time for open discussions and for everyone to have their say in an organised way. This will help to create an air of openness, encourage shared values and motivation, and most of all, will allow people to feel included.

Don’t forget how important one-to-one discussions are too, particularly in times of complexity. Your employees are going to face some problems or obstacles that they may not want to share with the wider team. Setting up these meetings, which should feel comfortable and informal, will encourage this level of communication.

It’s in your hands

You can set the difference between a happy employee and an employee who is so discontent in their role that they want to leave. It’s in your power to keep your staff happy – it will take some thought, effort and focus but will be well worthwhile.

Think about your management skills, evaluate the importance of communication and put your workforce first. They will reward you with hard work, determination and loyalty.