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Six tips for hiring and keeping your farm employees

Farm Management: Thinking of hiring more staff to make sure next season runs more smoothly? Try these hiring tips

One of the advantages of family farming (and family-owned businesses in general) is working with people who naturally love and trust each other. While there are common frictions and unique difficulties in working with family, it is usually more fulfilling than working with the relative strangers.

Unfortunately, as farms get larger and tasks get more specialized, many farmers have found that their family members don’t have the skills needed to get important jobs done effectively. Worse, not every child wants to stay on the farm as they grow up, and this can lead to a manpower shortage just when an operation may be becoming quite profitable. Eventually, a farmer realizes that they need a combine operator, accountant, manager, or some other specialized position, and that they have to fill it from outside the family.

The very closeness of family and lack of formal management structures can make this difficult. For some farmers the first non-family member hired is the first time they’ve ever had to think just as a manager.

We’re not talking about hiring unskilled field hands to help gather fodder or other basic tasks — we’re talking about hiring someone with skills to fill an important, business critical position. With that in mind, we have assembled some tips to make the hiring process easier.

1. Define the position

Every farmer is used to being a jack-of-all-trades: being their own mechanic, botanist, salesman, and vet. They’re used to developing a range of skills and expect it from their children who work with them as well. Employing an outsider, however, requires carefully defining the roles, skills, and responsibilities of a position. These are how both you and your employee will judge their performance.

For example, say you needed a manager to handle selling your jams, jellies, and other preserves to supermarkets. You’d need someone with previous experience in sales, knowledge of the retail food industry, and skills working with canning and bottling machinery.

2.  Set a reasonable salary and benefits

To attract an employee you’ll need to offer a salary that makes it worth their while to work for you. Statistics Canada’s website can give you a range of average salaries for a wide range of jobs which will help you set a price that will work for you economically and still be attractive. Be sure to compare to wages in your local area for similar jobs because you’ll need to be a bit competitive to attract good people who have other options.

3. Advertise the position

As with many things these days the internet is your best and lowest priced option. Sites like Craigslist and Kijiji offer free job posting boards. If you want to shorten the search you can also post jobs with headhunting agencies that find employees. They’ll ask for a premium when you hire one of their candidates but they can be worth it because they’ll handle most of the job search for you and bring you qualified people.

4. Establish performance reviews

Once you’ve hired your new employee you’ll need to set up some measures to judge their performance. You don’t want to be dismissing someone after six months just because you “think they aren’t working out.” You’ll want a business case to justify letting them go and hiring someone else. For a salesman you would set sales targets and check whether they were achieving them; for a combine harvester driver you’d want to check that they’re keeping the combine in good repair and that they are an efficient operator who gets the job done in a reasonable amount of time.

5. Don’t expect them to do everything

One of the keys to keeping employees is not just salary, it’s respect. As noted in No. 1, while you may be used to doing everything on your farm a salaried employee expects to be judged by their performance in one set of tasks. If you hire a combine driver and then start asking them to handle sales, they’re going to start asking for more money or leave. If you’re a small operation where everyone needs to pitch in outside of their specific job role every now and then, be honest when you hire them and let them know a portion of their total hours will be free for “odd jobs” — perhaps 10 to 15 per cent.

6. Don’t play favourites

Tensions between employees in a workplace are common and a headache for all managers. The headaches are even greater when one of the employees is your son or daughter and the other is a (comparative) stranger. To retain good workers you’ll need to learn to be fair, rather than automatically siding with your blood relations. This may cause tensions but you should be clear with your children that this is a business and that you all need to get along to make it succeed.

While hiring employees can be difficult, the needed skills they bring to your operation can be invaluable. With patience and forethought, hiring and employing can be made that much easier, and become a regular part of your expanding operation.

About the author

Columnist

Michael Flood is a business writer and columnist. You can reach him at [email protected]

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