After recruiting and training your staff, you want to keep hold of them, but how? Jez Fredenburgh speaks to farm employers and employees about how to boost retention.
You spend money, time and effort recruiting good people to your farming business.
But then, just when they have the hang of the job, they leave.
Why? And more importantly, how do you stop it happening again? Paul Harris, managing director of Real Success, which provides HR advice and staff management training to the agricultural sector, says: “Staff are one of the single biggest financial investments a farm business will make, and it can cost up to £15,000 to replace an employee.
“Planning and executing effective staff retention takes time, money and commitment.
But those farmers who embrace this challenge are the ones securing and retaining the best employees.”
Improving your communication and gaining a deeper understanding of the personality styles of your team members are soft skills which will help improve staff retention, says Paul.
Annual reviews, investment in training, decent working conditions and ensuring accommodation is to a standard your family would live in are also simple steps which can show staff they are valued.
Tips from employers
Jack Griffiths and his father own and run two dairy farms in Gloucestershire, including the home farm, Taynton Court Farm.
Soon this will increase to three dairy enterprises, taking cow numbers to 1,600 and staff to nine fulltime and nine part-time employees.
The business has several long-standing members of staff who have worked for the family for more than a decade.
Jack says: “We’re specialists and invest in training so our staff have a challenge and can find out what they like doing.
As they gain new skills and responsibilities, they can climb the ladder with us at the home farm, then we promote them to their own dairies.
We also pay well and try to offer a good work-life balance.
We all spend a lot of time together and it is important we get on, so we hold social events where partners and children come and we can all do something outside of farming.
“The most important thing is to give people something to work towards.”
Tips from employees
Alec Heron started off at Taynton Court farm 26 years ago as a young herdsman, before working his way up to farm manager about 12 years ago.
He manages the home farm, milking 900 cows.
Alec says: “I feel like things are always moving and improving in the business.
“The owners back the staff, so if I say something isn’t right and needs changing, for example a piece of machinery which would help make the job less manual and time-consuming, they listen.
I feel like I’m able to have an influence.
“I’ve worked for the business a long time.
I have reasonable hours, a good work-life balance, lots of training and have had a chance to progress.
Tips from employers
Rupert Major milks 630 spring-calving cross-bred cows on 313 hectares (773 acres) in Staffordshire.
He employs five full-time staff, plus three seasonal calf rearers and a part-time college student and apprentice.
To keep a high rate of staff retention, Rupert says the business aims to be a great employer.
He says: “Will Sanders, the farm manager, and I are always focused on how well we are managing the team and how happy they are.
“We believe ‘to be informed is to be involved’, so we have a weekly team meeting where we review the week gone and explain the plan for the week ahead.
This includes explanation of the current grass position and animal health challenges.”
Good planning and communication are key, says Rupert, as is resourcing the farm properly and training staff so they can work to a high standard without big time pressures.
Tips from employees
Farm manager Jonathan Kerr is employed by Velcourt, and manages 900 hectares (2,224 acres) of arable land over two farm businesses in Wiltshire.
“One of the attractions of a career with Velcourt is the fact they will give you training, experience and responsibility early on and push you to develop yourself,” says Jonathan, who has been with Velcourt about six years, after starting as an assistant farm manager.
“This means I feel confident and capable to do my job, which in turn gives Velcourt the ability to take on new businesses knowing there is a flow of people ready and keen to become farm managers.” The loyalty between company and employee is a major reason Jonathan says he has stayed with Velcourt.