Opinion: The recruiting rules are changing for farmers

Work has been in the news a lot lately. There have been stories about disenchanted employees “quiet quitting” — disengaging from their job while still ostensibly going through the motions.

The online #lazygirljob trend promotes the goal of stress-free but well-paid employment.

A survey showed that people in the UK are less likely than in many other countries to think work should be prioritised over spare time.

Most interesting to me as a former local government officer has been the experiment at South Cambridgeshire District Council in which employees receive five days’ pay for four days’ work.

See also: Opinion – time to act if your village pub is worth fighting for

About the author

Joy Bowes
Farmers Weekly Opinion writer
Joy Bowes, a former solicitor, divides her time between Suffolk and her partner’s  223ha Lake District hill farm. It is home to a herd of Galloway cattle. Higher Level Stewardship conservation work has been carried out, with plans for more trees under Countryside Stewardship.
Read more articles by Joy Bowes

Of course, the nature of work is constantly evolving. We no longer send children up chimneys or down mines.

The pandemic put paid to the notion that 9-5 in the office is the only efficient model.

My own council employer was an early adopter of flexible working practices with no fixed hours.

In 2008, we moved into a building that had desk space for only 70% of the staff, on the basis that most would work from home one or two days a week.

I certainly found it easier to concentrate on tricky legal matters away from the distractions of the office, and others could better balance work with domestic commitments.  

But the pace of change seems to be accelerating. Many employees now demand to work from home as much as they like, fit their jobs around other activities and decline tasks that they find incompatible with their wellbeing.

Alarming numbers have chosen to opt out of working altogether.

No duvet days

This attitude probably sounds bizarre to farmers. My own exposure to farming has brought home that whatever needs doing must be done no matter what the weather and regardless of how you feel.

You can’t take a “duvet day” when there are stock to feed or fields to plough. You just have to get on with it.   

Young people fed a fantasy that they can have a job that is enjoyable, well-paid and doesn’t impinge too much on their leisure time will find reality a disappointment, but I’m sure they don’t all want to go through life putting in as little effort as possible.

Those who do will probably end up regretting that they didn’t try harder to achieve their potential or have a fulfilling career.

The sort of young person with a desire to work in farming could probably never settle for a #lazygirljob done in pyjamas at the kitchen table.

However, anyone trying to attract young people into any line of work nowadays, including agriculture, will need to recognise the shift in employee expectations.

There are indications that enthusiasm, perhaps even a sense of vocation, does not stop people quitting if they think they are getting a raw deal compared to others.

Doctors and teachers are taking their skills elsewhere, or leaving their professions altogether, through dissatisfaction with working conditions. 

Realistically, you cannot tell someone that it will be fine to cram all the milking into four days and take the rest of the week off, or go to the beach instead of combining the barley because it’s a nice sunny day.

But recruiting and retaining good people could depend on keeping an eye on the greenness of the grass on the other side of the fence.

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