Dairy Excel: Attract, then keep good employees


After you have gone through the recruitment and hiring process, how do you develop a working relationship that will encourage your employees to stay with your farm for the long term?

This is a question that all businesses struggle with today, as the younger generations are projected to change careers six to seven times over their working lifetime.

The first step is to make certain your employees know what your expectations are of them. The easiest way to communicate your expectations is by a written job description.

Many times, farmers tend to balk at putting their expectations in writing because of the fear that an employee will come back with “I can’t or won’t do that; it’s not in my job description.”


Most often, having a well-written job description actually helps to lessen these comments. Employers have found that employees who know what their responsibilities are from the beginning and what performance standards they will be measured against are more successful in their positions.

Being successful and understanding management’s expectations have been shown to be a vital part of achieving job satisfaction. Other factors that influence employees’ job satisfaction include: competitive wages/benefits; feedback and recognition; good working conditions; and continual communication, to name a few.

The following paragraphs will address each of these factors.

• Competitive wages and benefits are important, and you must look at this factor realistically. Even high school-aged workers can now earn as much or more at a fast food establishment as they can baling hay out in the hot sun.

Therefore, it is important to take an honest look at your wage and benefit package to determine if it is competitive within your area.

In 2007, an Ohio State University Extension study was completed titled, Wages and Benefits for Farm Employees. The data will give you a starting place for comparison. Also, think about the other benefits working for your farm can provide that other employment cannot.


For example, variety in daily tasks, working outside, flexibility of schedule, working with animals and family atmosphere. These benefits will vary from farm to farm, but are definitely something to think about for your specific operation.

• Providing job performance feedback to employees is not only good for the employee, but also the employer. This is a great opportunity for farm managers to recognize the things employees are doing well.

It is also a time to help employees understand how they can improve in other aspects of their job. Feedback can happen in the form of daily casual conversations or more formal job performance meetings between the manager and the employee.

Recognition of employees can also come in many forms. Sometimes a simple thank you for going above and beyond is more important than tangible rewards.


Other ideas for recognition rewards might include: leaving an extra hour early on a Friday, an extra day off, employee of the month award, gift certificates, a cash bonus, etc.

Recognizing birthdays and other special events is also meaningful to employees.

• Good working conditions include safe equipment and facilities, organized and relatively clean work areas, break rooms and/or bathrooms.

A positive working atmosphere with a team spirit is another criterion that has been shown to positively impact job satisfaction.

• Continual and clear communication from the farm manager is a must.

Employees appreciate a manager who keeps them up-to-date on daily activities, as well as letting them know if their job performance is meeting expectations.

When instructions are given, be sure to be clear. Don’t assume the employees understood your directions. Be sure to ask for clarity and any further questions they may have.


Involving employees in planning is a way to increase communication as well as show that you value the employees’ input. Staff meetings, cell phones, two-way radios and message boards are all tools that may be used to aid communication around the farm.

Retaining good employees is difficult and takes time and effort on the part of the farm manager. However, time spent retaining a good employee is time well spent when you consider the effort it takes to train a new employee.

Retention of valuable employees will always be a challenge, but acting on a few of these suggestions may help you to build a long-term relationship with your employees.

(Julia Nolan Woodruff is an OSU extension educator in Ashland County.)

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