Carlyn Sherriff and Dee Heinjus
We have noted a tightening in the supply of labour for on-farm roles. This has been evident through low enquiry rates for positions vacant, and even lower application numbers. Supporting this is feedback from farmers who simply cannot fill roles.
In partnership with Grain Producers SA, we have developed a project to address the labour supply issue for the grains industry. If successful, we will run a pilot program with employees looking to transition from other sectors (such as automotive manufacture) to see if there is a viable pathway to farm employment.
This is one way to address the problem. Another is through better retention of current staff. Below are key points that will help improve staff retention:
Living and breathing your workplace culture is an essential part of staff retention.
Your culture reflects your business values and beliefs. By living your culture every day, you honour your values and demonstrate your commitment to your business.Employees respond positively to a supportive and positive workplace culture that aligns with their own values and beliefs. Employees are more likely to stay with you if they feel aligned with and value your culture.
This can be hard to quantify. One way to do it is to ask your team to define what makes your workplace a good place to be. Or, put yourself in the shoes of your neighbour and think, “how would they describe this business to someone new to the area?”.These are useful ways to see if you are living your culture, by putting yourself in the shoes of those around you.
- Clarity and transparency
For employee retention, it is important that you are clear and transparent in your expectations and with supporting employment systems.As some say, “don’t assume as you make an a** out of you and me”. It is always best for the employee to seek clarification from you directly than to make assumptions and possibly come to the wrong conclusions.Do you have:
- A clear letter of offer that outlines employment conditions?
- Employment agreements?
- Job descriptions (reviewed regularly) which outline expectations for the role?
- An ‘open door’ culture that encourages feedback and discussion about employment related matters?
Employees that are treated well, are employed in line with legislated requirements, and who are supported via best practice human resource management are likely to be happier at work and be long-term employees.
Keep abreast of changes to legislation and requirements and communicate any change to your team.
A step you can take to promote clarity and transparency is to ensure all employees have a copy of the FairWork Information statement so they understand their entitlements. Use this document as a starting point for a conversation about employment expectations.
- Performance management
Performance management is not something you begin once things go ‘pear shaped’. It is a proactive tool used to gain feedback, both positive and negative, to help develop a healthy long-term working relationship.During the first 12 months, is it recommended to review employees’ performance regularly (every 2 months). Check in and see if they understand their role, if their (and your) expectations are being met, and what gaps are emerging.For employees past the one-year mark, aim to formally discuss performance at least once a year, but ideally twice. After seeding and after harvest fits well into a cropping business.
Performance management doesn’t need to be a strictly formal process. Make a few notes and discuss them one on one at a time that suits you both.
A potential framework for proactive management is:
At the start of each major task (e.g. seeding, harvest) ask:
- What can we do to make this most effective?
- What role will we each have?
- What are the not negotiables to ensure this is a success?
At the end of each major task (e.g. seeding, harvest) ask:
- What worked well?
- What could be improved?
- What did I do that worked well, what did you do that worked well?
- What can we each do to improve our effectiveness?
- What do you like/dislike about working here?
- What training do you want to undertake and why?
- What ideas do you have for areas we can improve?
Proactive performance management helps retain employees in your business for the long term.
- Payment and conditions
Of course, we cannot talk about staff retention without mentioning payment and conditions.The first reference point remains the relevant Award and the National Employment Standards.
Once these are met, employers need to consider the employment marketplace and ensure a competitive package is offered. If employees feel they are not being remunerated fairly they will seek out new employment. Our Farm Salary Survey report is a good reference point.The keys are communication, review, communication, review and more communication. This provides clarity and transparency, as discussed above.
For more information, or to purchase a Farm Salary Survey report, email or phone 08 8841 4500.