“Why farm staff quit jobs & why employers find it difficult to retain staff” - Emma McCormack

One of the greatest challenges within the modern Irish agricultural sector is sourcing and retaining valuable staff and team members.  The industry continues to expand and so more labour units are needed to keep the show on the road. 
 Having been working within the dairy industry properly for some 3/4 years now, I have passed through dozens of dairy farms going about my work, from initially a part time level through college, to now at an intensively committed level. During this time, I have taken note of a lot of things, about employers, staff and their relationships. I have worked for some outstanding and inspiring people, and I also have worked on some pretty unenjoyable farms too! I’ve seen plenty of breakdowns between farm teams and sadly a lot of them I felt could have been prevented. There a few key fundamentals that are crucial toward smooth working relationships, from smaller teams to larger scale. 
With ease, most employers can sell a good job opportunity. However, they may not be so successful in maintaining a low staff turnover. Sometimes, certain people aren’t cut out for the job, simple as that - but often times, it’s little things that we can all improve on, that will in time accumulate, to smooth runnings of an enterprise where everyone benefits, and is content. 
So, in a bid to bridge the gap between farm owners, management and farm staff, here are the things I believe, will create a happier environment for everyone; from my own experiences of noticing successful farm enterprises and what defines them. 
  • Number one, is respect. Treating people with utmost respect, is something they don’t forget. Every person on the team, no matter how small their duties should be well respected. Never ask someone to do a job you’ve never/would never do yourself, for example. A good morning, thank you or how are you, especially amidst busy times, goes a long way.
  • Inclusion - include everyone in conversations and decision making. Get everyone’s perspective - inclusion builds trust between all parties. When people feel involved in the bigger picture, they become more invested in what’s going actually on, and also inject more effort into their role. If you’re a member of the team, keep your boss well informed on what’s happening. A quick text or call, is a perfect update. 
  •  Good animal husbandry. I know we reach larger scale each year in farming, and we can’t possibly get attached to every cow, although we get to know so many of them so well - at the end of the day, they must serve their purpose to retain their place in the herd, as it’s a business, and we must turn a profit. However, making it widely known to everyone who steps onto the farm, that animal welfare is a massive priority, is a really important message. Someone who can’t get behind this basic principle, shouldn’t really be on the farm. As stuck as we can be for help sometimes, no help is better than poor help. Education in this area is really important, to highlight to those entering the sector, that’s it’s not all about money. Contented, comfortable animals is a requirement, not just a nice thought. 
  • Communication - the most important tool of all in my eyes. I think lack of communication leads to a lot of farm staff leaving their jobs. I’ve come to learn myself, that if there is any issue, or a potential problem stirring, it’s best to deal with it before it before it grows into a headache! Often times, folk don’t like confrontation and I do understand that, but if managers/farm owners are reasonable, approachable people, it’s no big task to address any matter that need attention, and together the issue can be resolved in minutes. Otherwise molehills turn into mountains, people get fed up and the environment becomes toxic. Working on a team with someone who isn’t happy, turns into a domino effect and suddenly nobody is enjoying their jobs. It can often be prevented with quick communication which can be built into everyday routine, as informal as a chat at 10 o’clock tea time. The more we speak and listen, the more we learn, and therefore, the more we can succeed. 
  • Farming is hard work, and although there are a huge number of job opportunities in farming, especially dairy farming, they don’t all offer competitive pay. It’s important to believe in your abilities, once you’ve gained knowledge and experience, and not settle for less than you are worth. Move on, if your work is being undervalued, you’ll be snapped up in no time if you can put in the graft. It’s a common reason I see people leaving jobs, or even changing career, which is sad, because there are excellent opportunities in the agricultural sector when you work alongside the right people. Encouraging, progressive, positive people. We all have our own bills of course, and goals to achieve. Money may not buy happiness, but dreams don’t really run on fresh air either! If we all continue to work hard enough, and efficiently and sustainably, there will be enough pieces in the pie for everyone. 
  • The last thing, is just being calm. It’s something a lot of us could do with working on. In a second, we can blow our lids and end up raising our voices, losing our temper, and saying something we regret. I don’t think there is ever any benefit to raising voices. You lose the respect of the person you’re speaking to. I’m working on it, myself, all the time - not losing my cool. It’s counterproductive, and you just end up annoying yourself more than anything! There’s a fine line between passion and ignorance. We have seen too many tragedies, too close to home, where valuable lives are lost and can never be retrieved. Keep your safety at the front of your mind, along with the welfare of others - in all farming that you do. At the end of the day, the land will still be here long after we are dust under the soil. So there is no sense in racing around, worrying or losing our temper with others. Work on things in your control, and don’t fret about the rest of it. Switch off from work when the day is done, and recharge your batteries as often as you need to. We are only human! 
I hope someone will find valuable this little bit of advice, on building relationships on farm teams, and making life easier and more enjoyable for everyone! Thanks for reading.