Managing Employee Expectations

As our industry becomes more popular and much more glamorized, finding employees whose job expectations match your expectations can be tricky. We love to joke, “There’s no tra-la-la in dresses and gathering baskets around here.” Yes, our work is beautiful and yes, our work is messy and hard. Here are a few ideas to help you find appropriate workers and manage their expectations.

1. In your job advertisements, use words like “production-oriented, fast-paced, energetic, multi-tasking, high energy.” Also be sure to include “willingness to work in all weather conditions” and “ability to be on your feet all day.”

2. Pair your job advertisement with real life farm pictures. Mud, sweat, boots, smiles. No jewelry, no over-the-shoulder armload shots.

3. At interviews and first few days, remind employees to bring adequate changes of clothing. It usually takes only one day of wet feet for this to really sink in. We provide lockers for staff to keep layers, dry shoes and socks, and other essentials on hand. People struggle to work when they are uncomfortable.

4. By the same token, provide all tools to do the job, including gloves. I ask people to not bring their personal favorite pruners, apron or whatever. The idea here is that if the tool breaks, it’s our problem; plus, we can train everyone on our most-efficient harvest and farming practices.

5. Be really clear on what the job is. For our farm, I try to make sure I articulate that our work is not terribly creative or artistic. While there is a little bit of that, we are mostly focused on consistency, quality standards, and a reliable product. This product is borne out of everyone following the same procedures and processes, not originality.

6. If you need people to be flexible, be sure you tell them ahead of time. At Roots, that means consistent start time and lunch time, but flexible end time on production days. Our orders have to be filled before people go home. Of course, there are exceptions for personal obligations. Remember, people do have lives outside of your farm bubble!

7. I get lots of questions on managing times for specific tasks. My favorite trick (from the amazing Jenn Halpin) is to work alongside someone who is not meeting time standards. I find that people can really step up their pace when they observe what is possible. Make sure you articulate these priorities at hiring or early on. We talk about times all day, every day on my farm. Living systems require flexibility, but bringing task-time everyone’s awareness does wonders for speed.

8. Advise your crew that they will be getting feedback, and be sure to give it. I like to say, “It’s never personal, it’s about the product.” (Side note: your crew wants your feedback! People like to know where they stand.)

The obvious corollary to all of this is offering a great work environment and giving your employees a great experience. More on that next Quarterly! We have the best workers in the world, and (most days) they love their jobs. Communication is the underlying theme of all these tips. It is your job to communicate clearly and realistically to your crew.

Michelle Elston

Roots Cut Flower Farm

Contact her at [email protected]