Cultivating Employee Trust and Open Communication Can Lead to High Retention

I try to keep up on a lot of the news related to the specialty crop and nursery industries. Every week, each Ag publication seems to have another article about labor. A recent article in Fruit Growers News entitled, “Growers get proactive for workers relations” is a must-read for any farm manager feeling the pains of finding, recruiting, and maintaining workers.

For any business, the employers’ relationships with staff can be complicated. In Ag, it’s complicated even further by job seasonality, wage rates, federal and state labor laws, food safety regulations and audits. However, anything an employer can do to improve the relationship with staff is going to create a company culture that makes the farm a better place to work. When labor supply is low, your farm needs to be more intentional about becoming the “employer of choice.”

In another article, "Ag census shows drop in farms, acres and income," the Capital Press summarizes data from the recent Ag Census: “Slightly more than half the farms, some 1.1 million, reported losing money. The average loss was $20,997 … For the farms that made money, the average gain was $125,754. In all, per-farm net income averaged $43,750, a 2% drop over five years earlier.”

What does this all mean? Your labor is likely your biggest expense and per-farm income has, on average, decreased in the recent years. It is critical to your farm’s success to manage labor well. If your farm income does not increase, then your expenses must decrease in order to be profitable or maintain profitability. How can you connect your team to reach new levels of productivity? Andrew & Williamson Sales, the company featured in the FGN article, is investing in their employees. By providing more and better training, clearly defining expectations, improving communication, and being more transparent, they are striving to be the “employer of choice”.

How is spending time and money on your employees going to save you time and money? High employee retention and return rates is one way. Training new employees is expensive. The “learning curve” of any new farm worker is expensive. And let’s face it, when you feel like you’re cared about, told that you’re an integral piece of the produce supply chain, and part of a team, you’re more willing to invest your own efforts. Fruit, vegetables, or ornamental trees left in the field won’t make you any money, either….

Where does better labor tracking come into play? Fairness and transparency. Building trust with your workers by implementing a system that pays fairly could be part of your farm’s labor solution. Money motivates. Make sure your workers are getting paid for all the work they’re doing from the minute they scan their employee badges, to the precise number of pounds of produce picked, to the piece count of trees pruned. The benefit of a 2nd Sight system? The employee can always get a record. Print field receipts via Bluetooth printer or 2nd Sight FlexHub printer so that the work is transparent and the paycheck is no surprise.

From the worker’s perspective, “I’m getting paid for every minute and every bit of my work.” From the grower’s perspective, “I’m only paying for the time worked and activities performed.” A win-win if you ask me.