4 step-guide to recruit and retain staff on your dairy farm

As dairy farms get bigger, employees must take a more structured approach to recruiting and managing staff.

That’s the advice from independent management consultant Nollaig Heffernan, who believes dairy farmers should be putting the same amount of effort into people as they do into cows and grassland management.

See also: A legal guide to employing farm staff

1.     Be aware of your business and employee requirements

  • Carry out a Swot (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis of your business and identify what roles you need to fill and what your requirements are.
  • It is key you know the type of employee you are looking for.
  • It’s essential you are fully aware of the legal requirements of becoming an employer too. 

2.     Be aware of your management skills

  • Prepare a job profile to showcase your business and attract the right staff.
  • Learn how you can improve your management skills.
  • Go on training courses.
  • Always assume responsibility when things go wrong.
  • Ask your staff for feedback: this will only work if staff believe they will not be punished for being honest and if you have a healthy working relationship whereby they feel comfortable challenging you
  • Is your staff turnover rate too high? This could indicate a problem with your management technique.
  • At exit interviews, ask the employee leaving to give you honest feedback and find out how you can do better next time.

3.  What employee are you looking for?

  • Be very clear what skillset you are looking for.
  • The leading cause of job dissatisfaction is lack of clarity. Create a job profile to overcome this.
  • Make sure employees are clear about their role, using a job description to list what the job entails.
  • Also complete a job specification, including what is required (experience, qualifications).
  • If you are willing to sacrifice experience/certain skills, you need to be prepared to train those individuals and work this into your schedule.
  • Don’t hire at a busy time. Pre-empt your busy times and be proactive when hiring.
  • Always check references.

4. Invest in staff to make sure they want to stay

  • Communicate regularly and spend time with them.
  • Respect them – this is the difference between a poor and good manager.
  • Provide them with training.
  • Get them to join discussions/meetings.

Other tips on managing staff

  • You don’t run a charity, you run a business. Don’t keep staff that are not the right fit.
  • Don’t abuse the appraisal system. An appraisal should focus on what staff are doing well and how you can help them to improve, not “character assassination” where you save up problems and list them all off.
  • Don’t assume what people are doing, even if they have experience. Typically, farmers are better at training non-English speakers or those without an agricultural background. Remember other staff still have to go through the same process because your protocols will differ to others.
  • Address attitudes promptly or it will affect other members of staff.
  • Appreciate that not all people are the same and their motivations may be different.
  • If there’s a language barrier, use easy-to-read signs or videos to explain protocols.