New employee orientation: A must for farms

A good experience on the first day can lead to long term employee engagement and higher retention rates.

Often on a dairy farm, a new worker is asked to start immediately because we are short-handed. Since cows need to be milked and calves need to be fed on-time, the temptation is to start the new person on the job with little explanation. Then we become upset that the new employee didn’t last more than a few days. We once again are short-handed and the cycle continues. This cycle costs the farm a lot of money in employee turn-over. We also place an unfair burden on our current employees that are left to cover shifts when someone quits and invest time in training another new person. A conscious decision by the farm to invest one hour into a new employee could make all the difference. New hire orientation is a critical point for both the new hire and the company.

Taking time to welcome a new worker to your farm will pay big dividends in the long run. A good experience on the first day can lead to long term employee engagement and higher retention rates. This is also an opportunity to get to know the person that you hired. Michigan State University Extension recommends utilizing premade packets and a checklist to help you through the process when a new hire starts.

Having new employee packets prepared ahead of time will save you time when you are in a rush to get the new person going. Items you may find helpful to include in new employee packets include:

  • I-9 form
  • State and federal tax form (W4)
  • Direct deposit form
  • Michigan New Hire Reporting Form
  • Animal abuse policy and reporting agreement
  • Drug and alcohol policy
  • Employee handbook

If you do not currently have an employee handbook, an example template compiled by Michigan State University Extension can be found online where you can also find a helpful check list for agricultural employers.

In addition to having the necessary paperwork completed, it is important to discuss details about their new role on their first day. Even if details such as their work schedule and job expectations were discussed during the interview, it is not appropriate to assume that the candidate retained the information. All important information needs to be covered again on the first day. A possible discussion point checklist may look like this:

  • Farm tour
  • Job description
  • Learning expectations and timeline to complete
  • Pay rate
  • Pay schedule
  • Work schedule
  • Work attire
  • Where to park
  • Bathroom location
  • Where to store food and eat lunch
  • Introduction to other employees
  • What to do in case of accident or emergency
  • Location of phone lists
  • Policies regarding tardiness, sick days, break times, etc. 

After the new employee has started, it is important to meet with them at the end of the day or at the start of second day to debrief on how their day went and answer any questions. For many new employees their new job may seem fast paced and hectic. Spend time listening to them and encouraging them. For the first few weeks on the job, it is important to maintain a close relationship with a new employee to head off any issues. A solid orientation experience sets both the new hire and your company up for success. 

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