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5 ways to get workers to stay on your dairy: Incentives that really work

Published on April 14, 2017 for Progressive Dairyman.

Obtaining and retaining employees is a forefront issue among many industries, especially for dairies. A current trend plaguing our industry is job-hopping. Many farms seem to endure constant turnover, and replacing and training new hires is costly. Although there is no cure-all for reducing turnover, there are some steps employers and managers can take to keep employees on the farm.

1. Pay and incentive program

It’s important to know how your wages compare with similar farms around you. Find out what others are paying to see if you’re competitive. Rival pay will help put your farm at the top of the list for quality employees. Consider implementing a raise and incentive schedule so your employees have motivation from the beginning.

Promote from within your farm and cross-train to engage your workforce. If you have an employee who is doing a great job, ask them to lead their shift, or have them help you develop better procedural and safety protocols. Cross-train employees by teaching your milkers to push up feed, or train your feeders in maternity and calf care. Cross-training is not only beneficial to employee morale, but also can be a lifesaver if an employee calls in sick or can’t work; it allows you to move employees around the farm when needed.

2. Incentives and bonuses

When creating your incentive program, think about what areas you would most like to improve. Tailor your program to give employees an added reason to improve their performance in these areas. Raise schedules can be based on individual or team performance. An example of an incentive program is to base a bonus on your somatic cell count (SCC) goals.

If the SCC goes below a certain level, every employee gets ‘X’ amount. This is beneficial for you, helps you provide higher quality milk and encourages employees to work together, follow protocol and be attentive to their jobs. Other incentive examples include the following: keeping cows in the right groups, keeping a clean break room or no accidents, injuries, broken equipment, etc. Decide what monetary value you can put towards the program, and focus on getting your employees to work together to accomplish goals.

3. Housing

Providing housing on- or off-site can help you attract and maintain employees. As the political and immigration scenes become more volatile, we see more employees asking for jobs with housing. Although this can be a big undertaking, well-managed housing can give you a big advantage while recruiting and keeping employees. Housing provides stability and security during these tumultuous times.

4. Regular meetings

If you don’t already, schedule regular employee meetings. Even if you only have a few employees, taking time to sit down and discuss topics about the farm is invaluable. Be sure to keep communication open. If you have Spanish-speaking employees, make sure you have a way of communicating with them, either through another employee or a translator. Allow time for the employees to talk about their concerns. If you are making changes, be clear in your instructions and explain why the changes are being made. Try to be approachable so your employees feel comfortable talking with you. Providing lunch or snacks at meetings is a small way to show your appreciation – but it goes a long way. Take time to relax and have fun with your employees – sometimes that can be just as important.

5. Recognition

Get to know your employees personally, and show them that you care. If they are going through personal troubles, refer them to people or agencies that could help them. Celebrate birthdays and holidays; it doesn’t have to be a huge party, but celebrating them is very important. Recognize when an employee does a good job or puts in extra effort. Give out gas or coffee gift cards if an employee goes above and beyond the call. You don’t want it to become expected, but rewarding employees is a great reinforcement. Even a “thank you/gracias” or “good job/buen trabajo” is appreciated.

A company’s culture is becoming more important not only to employees, but to consumers. And this applies to dairy. Create an enjoyable and respectful work environment. Establish your program, and be consistent with every employee. Let your employees know how appreciated they are. And remember, the little things go a long way.

Becky Schmid is the operations manager at AgriStaff USA, a labor service agency that provides workforce solutions to the agricultural industry. They have offices in Kiel and Appleton, Wisconsin.

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