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10 tips for investing in and retaining valuable staff

In November we continued our series of articles in British Dairying Magazine on farm labour.

If you’ve spent time and money recruiting new staff or you have long-serving and valuable team members, you’ll want to retain them. So how can you ensure that staff stay on your farm?

Paul Harris from REAL Success suggests there are some simple steps you can take to retain staff.  “It’s easy to lose people” Paul says. “But it’s also easy to keep them if you follow some simple steps.”

Here are 10 tips for investing in and retaining valuable staff

1. Invest

Thinking needs to shift from staff being a ‘cost’ – to a ‘return on investment’ – similar to assessing investment in buildings, stock, and machinery. If staff are asked to expand their roles as you’ve decided not to replace someone, don’t expect them to hang around for long.

2. Working Hours

Rather than running labour levels very tightly (often slightly under that required on a regular basis), plan labour levels slightly “over” what may be required.  This gives all staff the option to take time off, cover sickness absence and undertake training, staff meetings and off farm events.  It also allows staff to return to work refreshed and able to give their full focus to the business, reducing accidents, eliminating mistakes, and improving outputs.

3. Training

Farmers often suggest there’s no point in investing in training if staff then decide to leave. But what happens if you don’t invest in training and your staff stay?  The farming industry can offer a clear opportunity for career advancement so constantly assess training needs and put measures in place to build the skills of the team.  From joining discussion groups, to on-farm training days, demonstrating a clear investment in staff is likely to bring a return on this investment directly into their performance and will increase the likelihood of them remaining on the farm.

4. Staff facilities

Dairy farming can be a dirty job at times, so decent staff facilities are an essential factor that can transform how a farm is viewed and the staff perform.  A dirty, cold, and damp farm toilet will not help staff to feel valued. Providing a warm, dry, and comfortable staff room doesn’t require huge investment either.  If the furniture and appliances were heading for the tip, take them there and not into the staff room.

5. Housing

Draughty and damp homes with windows that rattle and appliances that blow the main fuse when they are used, do not represent a pleasant or safe environment for staff. Keep your accommodation well maintained and ensure it’s also appropriate for the needs of the staff member, by establishing this at the recruitment stage.  Decent and well-maintained housing will enhance staff loyalty.

6. Health & Safety

A dangerous farm is likely to have a high staff turnover. Some farm owners and leaders may pressure staff to take unnecessary risks to “get the job done”, which can lead to a poor H&S record and a negative reputation for the industry. Farm owners and managers should lead from the front. From wearing helmets on quad bikes to sensible speeds of vehicles and not climbing on buildings without the correct safety wear and equipment, Health and Safety must be considered with the seriousness it deserves.

7. HR matters

Ensure you have the employment basics in place such as a full Employment Contract or Statement of Terms and Conditions on the first day of work.  A staff handbook with all the policies and procedures can help reassure staff that they are protected and will be fairly treated. Take advice from a HR professional if necessary.

8. Communicate

From staff meetings to regular one-to-one discussions, ensure you’re talking to your staff on a regular basis.  Lack of information about what’s happening around the farm or simply barking orders at staff and expecting them to respond, will not build loyalty.  Be prepared to listen to staff, hold annual personal review sessions (using an external facilitator) and learn how to communicate to different personality styles.  Treating people as individuals is the simplest way to build teamwork and loyalty.

9. Recruitment

Recruiting the wrong person into a team can result in existing team members re-considering their positions. Think carefully about how a recruit will fit in to your team.  Use personality profiling and take advice from HR professionals and use recruitment agencies if time is short. Don’t be tempted to rush into recruitment.  It’s easy to recruit in haste but end up regretting at leisure as a key member of staff moves on…

10. Be positive

If staff are viewed as a problem, they will be.  If staff are considered an asset, they will be too.  Whilst livestock and land are key components, staff are still the most vital part of any business. Farmers who talk staff ‘up’, not down are seen to be those who are more invested in their teams and become the employers of choice.



Money alone will not retain your staff and is often one of the lowest motivators for leaving a farming business. Feeling valued, appreciated, and cared for are more important factors that will retain your staff. Take a holistic view of how you treat your staff and look for the areas where you can improve. Ask other farmers how they take care of their staff and commit to making your farm an Employer of Choice.