Growing up on a farm teaches the value of hard work and instills an independence that is not just something to be proud of; it becomes a part of who you are as a person. It’s a trait all farm kids-turned-adults have in common.
Since most farm owners grew up on farms, it’s hard to fathom why anyone would spout about the need for work-life balance. But there is a wide disconnect between most farmers’ views of work-life balance and what the workforce is telling us today.
While you might be tempted to think it’s just a fad—as some of us thought when organics started—I’m here to tell you work-life balance isn’t just a buzz word you can ignore.
According to the 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research Report, 45 percent of employees said good work-life balance is an important attribute when gauging the attractiveness of an organization. It came right after an attractive salary (58 percent) and long-term job security (46 percent).
As a recruiter in agriculture, I constantly hear from job seekers who would love to work on a farm but don’t think the work-life balance will work for their family. It’s not that they won’t put in some extra hours when needed, but they also know most often on farms the balance is, well, not balanced.
I can hear your sighs as you read this—members of my own family included. My concern is that we are losing too many great hires in an already tight labor market because they believe a farm can’t offer a career with a decent work-life balance.
While the seasonality of our business can’t be changed, we can change our approach to labor.
Agriculture is not alone; plenty of other industries have peaks in their cycles. Think about retail and food manufacturers around the holidays. The construction industry in northern states can’t work on projects year-round. Accounting firms are four months of the year. The labor shortage is not fixing itself anytime soon, and we can’t keep losing great candidates. We need to rethink the labor on our farms.
There are two basic problems to solve. One, how do we attract the best of the best for our full-time year-round positions? Two, how can we add supplement labor during the peak season to ensure our full-time team does not get burned out? Here are a few creative ideas from other industries and farmers to help solve these problems.
Retirees are a great resource for additional staff during the peak season. They care about the equipment, are punctual, and don’t want to be year-round employees. The only challenge is how to find retirees. They aren’t looking on job boards. To be successful, you need to focus on word-of-mouth. Talk with anyone and everyone in the community about your opportunity.
If there’s a college or university near you, students are typically looking for evening job opportunities. This allows your full-time team to leave work and not work into the late hours of the night. Most students look for jobs on a website called Handshake. It would be beneficial to post your job there to attract more college students. Since students also use various forms of social media, social media advertisements are another good way to target these candidates.
Partner with another industry
Partnering with another company can be a hidden opportunity. For example, a company in Nebraska hires seasonal soil samplers from another company that lays off their employees at the same time of the year. These companies encourage employees to work for each other during the opposite season. Look at your individual market to see which companies are nearby and learn about their typical seasons and work schedules. If a local company has structured hours from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m., you can target employees who want extra hours from 4 p.m. or later.
H-2A employees are another great resource, although it comes with a set of challenges. It can be difficult to predict and commit to how long the season will be, and you’ll also need to stay in compliance with housing and pay rules.
Your local staffing firm, which comes with a higher price tag, can take away the burden of finding employees and keeps the employees on their payroll. When you want to let someone go, the staffing firms takes care of everything.
Remember, work-life balance is different for everyone. Not all employees need or want the same hours. For example, we work with one agricultural equipment dealership that develops custom plans by employee. If employees want to work between 40 to 45 hours per week, the dealership will honor their schedules. If a technician wants to work extra hours, then the person can do so. Talk to your employees to understand their desired schedules.
The most important part of the work-life balance is creating a schedule that fits their needs. — Lori Culler, DTN farm business adviser