Motivating, Engaging Retaining Farm Employees

Motivating, engaging and retaining skilled employees are 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 make mistakes as they learn about their new responsibilities.

Manitoba’s farm workers are no different than employees in other industries and want to be motivated and engaged in their employment, regardless of the position they hold. Motivation is simply the willingness to achieve a goal – to get something done.  Understanding and responding to what motivates an employee may be difficult. For one employee, it might be work-life balance while for another it may be related to money.  It’s the owner or supervisor’s obligation to learn about their staff, find ways to motivate and engage each person. Whether the employee is a family member or not, it’s important to answer the age-old question, “What’s in it for me?” from the employee’s  perspective. 

To achieve this, two-way communication is needed, because it allows employees to:
  • be appreciated and recognized in a sincere and appropriate manner;
  • work in a healthy and safe environment;
  • understand the farm’s culture, values and vision;
  • have specific, achievable goals to work toward; and
  • utilize their skills and strengths to maximize their proficiency.

Two common questions employees ask are, “What is my job?” and “How am I performing?”.  Providing feedback, both informally and formally, to answer these questions should be a primary and ongoing responsibility for supervisors and owners. When an employee isn’t doing what is expected, often there are unclear expectations of what they are asked to achieve.  Discussing employee performance and their contribution to the farm business shows the employee that they are valued by their employer. In turn, this provides motivation to work harder, be engaged in the success of the farm business and help make the farm run like a well-oiled machine.

It’s also possible that employees
may leave for a new opportunity. It’s important to have a good understanding of why people are leaving. Exit interviews allow an employee to talk candidly about how they see and feel about what happens on the farm, so this provides a great opportunity to review the strengths and weaknesses of the farm management. Unless there is a large pool of qualified, well-skilled people waiting to take available positions, it is recommended that effort be placed on motivating, engaging and retaining current people, including family members who work on the farm along with paid employees.

The following resources provide information on motivating and retaining employees: 

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