What keeps farm workers on the farm? Com-munication is the key, said Gregg Hadley, University of Wisconsin-River Falls farm management specialist, at a recent conference.

“Communication between workers and the supervisor is the single most important issue,” Hadley said, quoting from a California study in which farm workers ranked what they considered top issues with supervisors. Second on the list was the importance of getting performance evaluations; third, the job pace; fourth, job assignments and instructions; and fifth, pay issues.

Farm workers also ranked what they thought was important from employers. Communication was still the top issue, but pay was second in line. A third issue: supervisor selection; fourth, work and work hours; and fifth, performance evaluation.

Those same farm workers suggested several ways supervisors and employers could improve employee morale.

“Your showing enthusiasm for the job is the No. 1 thing with employees and why they want to stay,” Hadley said.

Other ways to keep employees:

  • Reduce the social distance. In other words, be friendly and avoid profanity, name calling, snapping your fingers, etc.

  • Compliment a worker's success, listen to his or her perspectives and avoid criticism that sounds like a personal attack.

  • Be attentive to workers' needs and keep supplies on hand, work to reduce bottlenecks and make suggestions to workers who are struggling.

  • Choose supervisors with care and provide them with ongoing training. Also establish a grievance procedure.

Providing effective feedback, allowing employees to participate in decisions and being respectful are other ways to make employees feel committed to their jobs, Hadley said.

“If those things are there and your pay is competitive, you're going to have a motivated employee,” he said.