By Greg Coffta
When good employees have to leave
There are many reasons why employees and employers might decide to part ways, and in most cases the situation makes communication difficult.
When an employee is fired, the meeting can be uncomfortable for both parties, which can stifle communication. Nonetheless, this kind of interaction is relatively straightforward. Perhaps a more complicated situation is when an excellent employee leaves under good terms, such as a foreign-born worker deciding to return home.
As a rule, the most experienced and competent Spanish-speaking employees are those who have been working on the farm for the longest time, often more than six or seven years. At this point in the career of the average Spanish-speaking employee, there is a strong desire to return home.
Some simply leave for a few months; others return home for good. In either case, the dairy manager has to confront the loss of a good employee and, often, a friend.
To be prepared, there are a few simple actions that dairy managers can take. First, have a staff meeting with your Spanish-speaking employees to discuss the topic of "going home." Let them know that you understand their situation and that there will be no hard feelings or consequences for anyone who is planning to leave.
Make sure your employees feel comfortable coming to you with the news as soon as possible, even if they are in the early planning stages. Veteran employees usually value the relationship they have with their employer and want to preserve a positive interpersonal relationship. This makes it difficult to bring up the subject in conversation, and easy to put it off for another day. On your own part, don’t underestimate how much your employees value your relationship and hope you value it too.
Once you have determined which employees are planning to go and when, you can take the second step: Identify a current employee who’s planning to stay a while and who is interested in taking over the position of the person who is leaving.
Make time for that employee to cross-train and work side-by-side with the person who is leaving.
Provide opportunities for on-the-job training and advance preparation so that when employee A leaves, employee B will be ready to hit the ground running.
|Cross-train your employees so that one can fill in when another leaves. PHOTO: Rick Mooney
That solves the problem of filling the more highly skilled position, but what about the milker/pusher position that employee B left? Unavoidably, you will have to make a new hire at some point.
Chances are your Spanish-speaking employees have already discussed the opening. Have a meeting with them and ask who, if anyone, would like to move into the vacant position. Daytime positions are more coveted than the night shift, and it’s likely that someone will be eager to work on the day shift, if that’s where the vacancy is.
You can also ask your Spanish-speaking employees if they know of someone who is looking for work: a brother, sister, cousin or friend. Working with your existing employees to make a new hire is an effective way to earn their respect and confidence and to create the sense that everyone is working on the same team.
Tell your employees that you don’t want just anybody to fill the position. Remind them that they will be working with the new person and that it’s best to choose someone who is responsible and team-oriented.
If your employees don’t offer a good option, you may have to look to outside sources. Talk to other area producers. They may know of someone, and their Spanish-speaking employees often will. Ensure that the potential hire is a responsible employee (that he or she didn’t get fired from a previous job), and try to include some of your trusted employees in the interview process.
If you are operating with a lean team of essential employees, you can’t afford to lose anyone without having an adequate replacement. A little preparation will help you work through staffing changes with less wasted time and less frustration.
Editor’s Note: Greg Coffta, a bilingual dairy support specialist with Cornell University’s North West New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Program, provides training, translations and management consulting to New York dairy farms.