"Where Do I Park My Car?"
"Where do I park my car?" may sound like a funny title for a dairy article, but it is exactly the question that best illustrates the importance of new employee orientation to agricultural employers. The issue is not new, either.
I recall my teenage days as a part time employee in a couple of different jobs. On one job, no one ever showed the 'new kid' how to use the time clock. I knew where it was but not how to make it properly record my hours. At another job, the seasoned employees loved to give the new summer help a line of misinformation about where they should park around the plant. The personnel office never thought about telling the summer employees those details.
While those examples are of small consequence, the things a new employee experiences on their first few days of employment can have a large impact on their success on your farm.
Preparation for a new employee needs to start before they arrive for their first day of work. Preparations include legal work such as having W-4 tax forms ready; I-9 forms ready to verify an employee's authorization to work in the U.S.; and "new hire" report forms for the state. Be sure you have proper provisions made for workers compensation coverage. Prepare an employee file so all the necessary paperwork and records are in one place and easily found when needed.
Besides the legal matters, employers need to plan how they will start new employees on the job. That planning should answer the following questions.
- Who will meet new employees, showing them where to put extra clothes or their lunch?
- Where are time cards kept and how are they completed? When is payday?
- What are the policies employees are expected to follow on the farm? Are you providing an employee manual?
- What are the work hours? When is the employee expected to report to work? When are breaks and how long are they?
- Who will spend time with the employee their first day? Will the owner/manager be the one who shepherds the new employee around the farm, or will it be another experienced employee?
- Will the new employee be given a good overview of the entire farm operation so they gain an understanding of what happens besides their specific job, or will they be directed straight to their new job?
- Will someone show them where to find appropriate supplies, tools, equipment and people, or will they be put out in the barn and left to fend for themselves?
- Where is safety equipment found on the farm?
- To whom does the new employee report?
- Who is going to introduce the new employee to the rest of the staff?
- If they have a question about their work, whom do they ask?
These are certainly not all the topics employers should be ready to address with new employees, but they do lay a good foundation.
Why does all this make a difference?
Conducting a good orientation with new employees shows you care about them and their success on the farm. You want to do everything you can to help them become contributing members of the team that makes your farm successful. You want to show all your employees they are important, but if new employees aren't well engrained in the system in the first few months, there is a much greater chance they will leave the farm.
According to Sirota Survey Intelligence, employees with less than two years experience are twice as likely to leave as employees with more than two years experience. Two years might sound like a long time. However, if you can keep a good employee for those two years, you will spend far less time and money in the future seeking and training new employees.
Preparation for new employees and orientation are only two things that can make you an 'employer of choice', but when done well, they can be factors that tip the scale in your favor, encouraging good employees to stay on your farm a long time.
For questions about the legal aspects of being an agricultural employer in Minnesota, Farm Labor Laws and Regulations in Minnesota -- 2009 is available for download without charge at http://www.extension.umn.edu/dairy/employees/farm-labor-laws-regulations.pdf
Oh, yes, and "Where do I park my car?" Not in front of the hose port at the milk house! (see photo)
[Sources of information in this article: Employment Skills for Minnesota - 1998; HR Toolkit - DairyNZ, 2008]
Published in Dairy Star March 28, 2009