The dairy industry competes directly with other industries that have a high demand for good labour. Retaining skilled employees is important to most businesses because high employee turnover results in a loss of knowledge and skills that can be expensive and difficult to replace.
Not only are there the costs of recruitment and training for the new entrant, there can be less obvious drains on the business such as down-time while the new people reach full performance and mistakes (made if the business is understaffed, the transition is not smooth or by the new person as they become familiar with the business).
Unless there is large pool of qualified, well-skilled people waiting to take available positions it is recommended that effort be placed on retaining your current people – including family members who work on the farm as well as paid employees.
A retention strategy is the things the farm business does to keep people employed on the farm for a reasonable period of time.
People value having ‘challenging’ work – work that is stimulating, rewarding and safe, and where they are happy with their work-life balance and career path. People usually leave a place of employment when there is a better option available elsewhere or when they become dissatisfied with the work-life balance, working conditions, remuneration or management.
Many factors influence why people choose to stay in a job (see the graphic). Often people will stay working on a farm for the same reasons that first attracted them.
Why people choose to stay (source: Food, Tourism and Hospitality Industry Skills Advisory Council 2006)
This website gives practical advice to build farm capacity in all these areas. Rather than focus on one strategy, build a foundation for retention by choosing a number of factors that will encourage people to stay.
People who work on the farm are more likely to stay when they:
- have work that is stimulating (Performance appraisal, Recruitment – Position description);
- a fair salary package and other appropriate non-financial benefits (Engagement and reward);
- a good boss (Working together);
- are valued by others in the farm team (Working together);
- have a work-life balance they perceive as good (Working together);
- active support for on-going education, training and development (Skills development, Mentoring);
- are confident that difficult situations are able to be resolved (Working together) and that managers will address relationship and performance problems for the good of the team;
- have a safe workplace (Farm policies and systems);
- have a career path (A people approach).
Other ways to show people they are valued include::
- celebrate success – acknowledge significant milestones of the farm business or personal achievements (e.g. a barbecue or meal out);
- allow time off for people to attend school or sporting events;
- mark the passage of special days such as Christmas and Easter (e.g. with a small gift);
- praise a job well done; or
- offer social or team building opportunities.
The rewards of a supportive workplace
Turning around a high staff turnover
People leave employment for various reasons. Having a good understanding of why people are leaving is important. Routinely conducting exit interviews enables an employee to talk candidly about how they see and feel about what happens on the farm, and therefore provides a great opportunity to review the strengths and weaknesses of multiple aspects of the retention strategy.
Providing references for past employees
When people leave your employment they may ask you to provide them with:
- a simple statement of employment service (the name of the employee, their job title or role they performed and the dates of employment) or
- a written or verbal reference (for example describing the person’s skills, how they performed and what personal attributes they brought to the job).
If you have agreed to provide a reference for someone, their prospective employers may contact you as part of the interview process to validate a candidate’s claims bout their skills and work experience.
Giving references for former employees
People who give references have a duty to both the past employee and the prospective employer. They need to give a balanced, thoughtful account that is in no way misleading or defamatory. To find out what a prospective employer may ask for in a reference go to Recruitment.