by Sonja Heyck-Merlin
“What can we do to get employees safe, productive and engaged from day one? That’s the bottom line. That’s what we really want,” said Richard Stup, an agriculture workforce specialist with Cornell Cooperative Extension and the facilitator of a webinar series focused on the employee onboarding process. Although the series targets the dairy industry, the information is readily adaptable to onboarding employees on other types of farms.
“Onboarding is the overall business process to bring new employees into the farm business, complete necessary paperwork, equip them with safety, performance knowledge and skills and make them feel connected to a worthwhile team,” Stup explained.
According to Stup, the onboarding process has four levels: compliance, clarification, culture and connection. This part of his presentation drew off the 2010 document “Onboarding New Employees: Maximizing Success” by Talya Bauer, published by the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation.
The first step of onboarding, basic compliance, concerns itself with regulations and policies which are required by state or federal governments. Collecting a federal I-9 form (employment eligibility verification) is one example of compliance. Clarification is the second step and it concerns role clarity and performance expectations. “Believe it or not,” Stup said, “if we’re crystal clear in communicating what we expect and want from employees, we’re a whole lot more likely to get what we want.” Written job descriptions and standard operating procedures are examples of tools employers can use to create clarity.
Culture relates to the values, philosophies, traditions and norms of the workplace. Stup said onboarding is a crucial time to communicate and demonstrate culture. The final step of onboarding is connection – an opportunity to build a team of people that care about each other.
Cornell Agriculture Workforce Development created a downloadable onboarding template available at agworkforce.cals.cornell.edu/onboarding. With this document, an employer can quickly develop a comprehensive onboarding program. The template is customizable and functions as an onboarding road map for the employer. By creating a written game plan, one that incorporates compliance, clarification, culture and connection, employers will be ready for a new employee. The template provides hyperlinks to additional resources, such as applicable federal and state tax forms and other required paperwork.
“I have been on farms where a new milker shows up to work, and it’s a mad scramble. They’re just not ready. They’re just not organized. They’re really not that professional about how they are training employees and getting done all the important work that needs to be done up front,” Stup said. “The template is designed to help you be organized and have all this stuff ready without having to chase all over the place trying to find things.”
According to Stup, the onboarding process takes about one month, and he suggested dividing the process into three goal-oriented sections — day one goals, week one goals and month one goals. Each goal may cross into one or all of the four levels. For instance, he recommended that workplace and housing orientation take place on day one. Taking the time to introduce a new employee to key stakeholders, such as managers, family members and staff, is an opportunity to demonstrate the culture and connectivity of the farm.
Other suggested day one goals are completing required documentation, basic safety training and basic work procedure training. It is critical, Stup said, to not overwhelm the new person on day one.
Week two of the onboarding process is a critical time for learning and engagement. The focus should include the specifics of work and safety procedures. It’s also an opportunity to review additional workplace policies and evaluate how the employee is learning so far.
By the end of the first month, the employer should finish review of policies such as sexual harassment, complete primary procedure training and evaluate learning and performance.
The template is designed to not only prepare for the administration, orientation and training of a new employee but to track employee progress through the onboarding process. The template provides example evaluation questions to ask employees at the end of day one, week one and month one. Suggested questions for the end of week one include “Who is your supervisor?”, “What are three important duties of your new job?”, “How should you record your work hours?”, “What are three important safety hazards on the farm?” and “What day will you be paid?”
The template, however, will only be effective if employers commit to completing and implementing it. It may take multiple stakeholders to accomplish this. “Doing some of this office work, such as preparing your onboarding program, is important work. It’s never going to be urgent except for that day the new employee shows up and you’re not ready. It’s just important work that will help you be a more professional employer,” said Stup.