It is no surprise it can be hard to keep your staff from looking at job opportunities elsewhere, but there are proven ways which can help improve their efficiency and secure their loyalty. Clemmie Gleeson reports.
Businesses cannot function without the right people and finding and keeping the right staff has become increasingly difficult for farmers.
Recruiting staff is an expensive process in itself, but mistakes can increase costs to the business significantly more.
Concerns over how Brexit would impact seasonal workers has added an extra pressure for the horticulture sector, however, the number of worker employed this year has grown.
Horticulture recruited a total of 949 seasonal workers in the year to January 2020 (and increase of nearly 4 per cent on the previous year).
About 60 per cent of those employed were returning from the previous season. Turnover of seasonal staff (the number of workers who did not reach the end of their contract) has also fallen and is just 6 per cent last year compared to more than 9 per cent the year before.
In the rest of the industry, applications for jobs can be disappointingly low. Tess Howe, senior skills manager for AHDB, says: “It is difficult for most farming businesses. I would say the people who do not have a problem are generally the bigger businesses which are really focused on their staff and work with them to make the work fit.”
Increasingly, businesses need to work hard to promote themselves as employers. Many are using social media to advertise their vacant positions, says Tess. “People who are successful with this have a business profile on that platform, so it’s worth investing in that. With the industry’s low levels of unemployment, you have to sell yourself.”
1. Take time when recruiting
The process of recruiting and training someone for a job is estimated to cost about 18 months’ worth of salary payments. Employing the wrong person can cost the business about £50,000. See recruitment as an opportunity to rethink what you need. Think about what the outgoing person did and where your business is heading. How can things be done differently? If you have a business plan, revisit it and consider what skills you need a new recruit to bring in to realise your objectives. You could find someone with a whole new skillset to drive the business in a different direction.
Really think about the role profile, what the person is being asked to do, what their responsibilities are and who they will work with.
2. Involve others in recruitment
IT is a big decision to make, so check the team is happy with your choice. This may involve including them on an interview panel or inviting the new team member to spend a day on-farm.
This is particularly important if it is a small team. As well as colleagues, if your new recruit has a spouse or partner, it is a good idea to invite them to visit too, particularly if a house is part of the job offer. They both need to be happy in the home or they will not stay.
3. Choose attitude over aptitude
If staff have the right attitude you can build aptitude. Across the industry, many employers don’t invest enough in development and bringing people through the business, but you should be thinking about developing junior staff to take senior roles later on.
4. Be flexible
It is difficult for small businesses, but being flexible with employees where possible will help with staff morale. For some businesses, this may mean being more flexible over the hours staff work, rather than dictating their hours. It is also important staff know it is perfectly reasonable to ask for time off when they need it.
5. Have clear expectations
IT is essential to be clear about what you expect from your employees. This should be clear from their job role, but also in regular communications with staff. You should be very clear on what their responsibilities are and why they are important to the business’ bigger picture.
6. Training and development
Being part of a training initiative can help provide the basic level of training requirements, but can alert bosses to employees’ ambitions to improve their knowledge and skills.
Ensuring you have annual appraisals is an opportunity to discuss your staff members’ hopes for the future.
It is useful to be able to help them identify new training opportunities and where they want to see themselves in terms of career progression.
Some employers may be reluctant to invest in training for fear their business will not reap the rewards. People worry that if they train their staff they will move on, but arguably, if you do not train them they will stay which may be more detrimental and hurt the business if they are not happy
7. Involve staff in business decisions
Encouraging staff to feel a valued part of the business is really important. Many staff members are absolutely key to the business and there is very little slack, so when someone is ill or leaves, it can go horribly wrong.
It is important people feel secure, valued and informed and part of the team. How do you engage with your staff? It can be useful holding weekly meeting over coffee and biscuits and review key areas, including weather forecasts, activity from the previous week and then going around the table and working out priorities and where you need to be by the end of the week.
Holding an annual appraisal day where everybody discusses the business as a whole can also boost morale and allows everyone to feel comfortable with any changes and how to do things better.
8. Performance management
Managing employee performance is essential for several reasons. Everyone appreciates it when their hard work is recognised, acknowledged and praised, and the ambitious will thrive on the opportunity to develop their skills and experience. However, it is also important to identify where staff are not reaching targets or fulfilling their job role effectively. It really demotivates some employees if poor performance of others is not managed. Employers need to take more responsibility in terms of identifying and dealing with problems.
9. Be accessible
When staff take time to come and ask a question or want to talk, make sure you are empathetic. If the time is not right at that moment make sure you reassure them you want to give them your undivided attention and arrange another time to talk. You have to ensure you are accessible.
10. Consider management training
Less than 35 per cent of farmers have undergone any management training, yet they manage a workforce day-today. AHDB is taking steps to change this through its 14-month professional managers development scheme, accredited by the Institute of Leadership and Management. The course is aimed at increasing productivity by using people effectively, while also developing communication and people skills, while also helping attendees deal with difficult situations and problems which arise.
AHDB believes businesses are held back by people management; managers doing the work themselves, which does not motivate people and stops you from doing the proactive stuff. There is nothing more demotivating than your boss doing your job for you.