Staff retention – everyone can be a winner

October 2012


Who: Ann & Noel Campbell
Where: Yannathan, west Gippsland
What: 450 cow split-calving dairy herd
  • Farm has good track record of retaining staff
  • Treats people as part of team
  • Provide training, recognition, fairness
  • Sharefarming

WEST Gippsland, Victoria, dairyfarmers Noel and Ann Campbell have employed staff for the past 22 years. The Campbells have learnt that everyone can win when employees stay for the long term, making it well worth the effort involved in achieving a successful working relationship.

“Having long term staff is really important to us,” Mr Campbell said. “It is the key to so many things that enable our business and family to thrive: milk quality, product security, continuity of operations and our ability to leave the farm, knowing it is in capable hands.”

Dean Turner started on the farm 13 years ago as a farm hand, progressed through various roles to farm manager and recently entered a share farming agreement with the Campbells. “Staying with the Campbells long-term has been really good for me,” Mr Turner said. “I’ve been given opportunities for training, to progress through various roles and to have an input into the farm’s development. I’ve always felt like a valued member of the team, so it’s a place I’ve wanted to stay at.”

Since the Campbells hired their first employee in 1990, their operation has grown from 150 cows to the current 450 cow herd, which is milked through two herringbone dairies with help from 2.5 staff.

Mr Campbell said: “The two dairies evolved through the way we bought property. It works for us, but it means both dairies are often run with single operators. We need staff who are able to work without supervision.” The Campbells recognise that it’s not a one-way street. “To keep staff in the long-term, the relationship has to work for both parties,” Mr Campbell said. “It depends a lot on the way you approach the relationship.”

The Campbells don’t think in terms of ‘employee’ and ‘owner’ but rather as a team. “Between us there’s a job to be done; and we work together to get it done properly,” he said. “We look for team players when we are employing people. But there’s no real hierarchy here. If there’s an unpleasant job, we all do our bit. And we all work to the same roster.”

“Work-life balance is important to everyone working on the farm so we all get the same opportunity for weekend time off.”


Mr Campbell rates training, enthusiasm and trust highly when it comes to achieving a successful working relationship.

“Most of our employees have started with very little experience so we’ve taught them on the job and supported them to develop their skills,” he said. “We are happy to provide the training for people who are enthusiastic and willing to learn.”

Throughout the years the Campbells have had three apprentices and two school-based apprentices. They have also sent staff to numerous short courses such as artificial insemination (AI) certificates, Countdown courses and discussion group meetings.

Mr Campbell said he believed training was the foundation of trust. “We need to be able to trust people to get the job done to a high standard,” he said. “So we make sure we provide the training for them to do that. It’s not just about explaining what needs to be done. We also want people to understand why it’s important. Then they start to have some ownership in the work.”

Mr Turner agreed. “The Campbells are not the sort of people to be watching you over the shoulder all the time,” Mr Turner said. “They give you the training and then let you get on with the job, take responsibility and learn from experience.”


Both Mr Campbell and Mr Turner said that communication and providing up to date equipment were important ingredients to a successful working relationship. Mr Turner said that the Campbells always discussed things that needed to be done on the farm and followed through with issues raised by the staff.

“That’s what gives you ownership,” he said. “For example when Noel and Ann built the new dairy, they sought input from the whole team and they listened to our ideas. I enjoy working in the dairy because it operates well and some of the design is based on my ideas. And if something isn’t working properly it gets fixed.”

Mr Campbell recognised that having up-to-date equipment and keeping it maintained were important for work-place safety and employee satisfaction.

“Working with old or dodgy equipment can turn the simplest of tasks into a daily frustration,” Mr Campbell said. “People will look for work elsewhere if we don’t provide safe, modern facilities.”


While the Campbells aim to pay their staff competitive rates, they also understand the value of non-financial rewards and recognising achievements.

For example, at the end of calving, the Campbells take the team and their families out to dinner to celebrate.

Mr Turner said this gesture made the team feel their extra effort at a busy time is appreciated and valued.


The Campbells try to provide new opportunities for their employees to grow with the business. They encourage staff to attend discussion groups and take on industry roles.

For example, Mr Turner has been chairman of the local Young Dairy Development Program. “Although it started out as just a job, throughout time I’ve come to see myself as a dairy farmer and a member of the industry,” Mr Turner said.

Mr Campbell recognises that the growth of his business had allowed employees to take on different roles.“Expanding the dairy business created opportunities for our employees,” he said. “We would have lost them otherwise.”

For example, several years ago Mr Turner bought cows and leased them to the Campbells. This gave him the opportunity to build the assets he needed to progress to a share farming role. “Dean has always been eager to learn and interested in the decision making side of the farm,” Mr Campbell said. “He’s always been keen to be part of the growing business so his roles have evolved throughout time. Moving to a share farming arrangement is a new opportunity for us both.”

Under the new arrangement, Mr Turner is responsible for employing staff and oversees the milking herd and day-to-day farm management. Having a share farmer takes some of the day-to-day pressure off Mr Campbell, a welcome change as he is heavily involved in several industry organisations.

Mr Campbell said The People in Dairy website had been a valuable resource, used repeatedly throughout the years, including for the development of the sharefarming agreement. “It’s the first place we go for information about people-related issues,” he said. “Our share farming agreement was drawn up by our farm consultant but draws upon the principles outlined on The People in Dairy website.”