Empathic Listening

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Employee turnover can hurt the overall productivity of a farm and is often a symptom of other difficulties. One dairy manager put it this way: "Every time a milker leaves, I lose about one cow." Turnover in livestock operations upsets routines, makes animals uncomfortable, and affects the health and safety of the herd.

Other costs of turnover are associated with the processes of selecting, orienting, and training new workers. While an employee is being replaced, a substitute (sometimes you, the farmer or manager) has to be found to do the work. Many farm employers feel it takes about two years to train a year-round employee.

Some employment separations come quickly and as a surprise to both the worker and employer (e.g., the employee may be offered a job at another farm). Other separations are known long in advance to the worker, farmer, or both.

Many employees experience reluctance, ambivalence, and stress about leaving a job in pursuit of another. Some workers would rather retain a disliked job than venture into the unknown. Often employees leave mentally even though they show up to work regularly. Knowing the reasons why workers leave can give farmers an edge in improving working relationships.

One way of classifying turnover is by the degree of control the farm employer has over the separation. As a farmer you may have little influence over the worker’s family problems, moderate influence over scheduling, and relatively high control of the relationship between management and workers.

Turnover is not always bad. Sometimes positions are no longer essential. Those who leave are not replaced. Many farmers are uncomfortable either disciplining or terminating poor performers and are relieved when these leave on their own accord. Some employers make a worker’s life difficult so she will leave on her own. In the language of the courts this may be regarded asconstructive discharge and be treated in a similar fashion as a regular firing.

Gregorio Billikopf
University of California