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University of Minnesota Extension

Managing farm employees effectively

Two farmers talking near corn

Employing others in your farm business can help you accomplish goals, expand your business, and get more done than you could by yourself. Finding, managing and keeping employees can be challenging at any time, but especially in the tight labor market now. 

In March 2022, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the unemployment level in Minnesota was 2.5 percent. This low unemployment rate has led to an increase in wages nationwide and the opportunity for employees to be more selective in their job search. This situation means that employers need to stay competitive with the market and be clear in their communication with and expectations of employees.

Employees often have two main questions about their role at a company: What are the job expectations? and, are they meeting those expectations? 

Job expectations

Job descriptions are crucial for identifying the roles and responsibilities of employees. Often a job description is only reviewed during the hiring process, and while that is an important use of the job description, business owners should continually review and adjust job descriptions and expectations as necessary. Job descriptions should be limited to one page with two or three major responsibilities and should be reviewed annually, as an employee’s role in the business can change over time. 

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Are you helping your employees understand their new or changing roles? 

  • Is there written and posted documentation as to who oversees specific tasks, such as feeding, planting or milking the herd? 

  • What is the employer’s role in the business?

  • Do the employees know what to expect from the business owner?

Constructive feedback

Employees should be getting regular feedback on what they are doing well and things they can improve on. If an employee is doing a task improperly, you do not want to wait until it becomes a bad habit. The same should apply when they do something right. Let them know they did a good job and that you value them as an employee. This type of feedback should be given regularly throughout their employment, not just during an annual review.

Tips for providing feedback:

  • Help employees understand the “why” behind a task. For example, if an employee often forgets to clean out the waterers when checking the youngstock, take the opportunity to explain how important adequate clean water access is for the growth of the youngstock.

  • Allow the employee the opportunity to ask questions and provide input.

  • Set and clearly communicate standard operating procedures for tasks. This helps set expectations and allow the employee to answer their own questions via an employee handbook.

Stay competitive

Business owners also need to stay competitive in their wages and benefits to maintain good employees. Employees expect benefits such as paid time off, healthcare and retirement, as part of their wage for working. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported in March 2021 that 61 percent of employees received at least 10 days of paid time off per year after one year of service and 85 percent received that after five years of service.

Questions to consider:

  • Who are you competing with for employees? For example, is there a warehouse nearby that pays $18 per hour with paid time off or a local convenience store that pays $16 per hour with a 401(k) package?

  • How much paid time off per year do you offer? 

  • How do employees accrue paid time off? 

  • Do you offer retirement or healthcare benefits?

To be competitive in today’s labor market and to attract and maintain good employees at your farm, an employer needs to provide more than just good wages. Businesses need to be clear on employee expectations and feedback and provide benefits that are competitive.

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