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INTERVIEW: Take sufficient time to interview a prospective employee, Purdue’s Bill Field says. He advises asking for three references.

How do you hire quality employees with ethics?

Clearly state what you expect, and put it in writing.

The release of animal abuse videos taken by an undercover farm employee who was a member of the Animal Rescue Mission has sparked debate about agro-security. How do you make sure your farm won’t be targeted next?

There is no foolproof guarantee when hiring people, Bill Field says. And it’s especially difficult today when the selection is small — nearly everyone who wants to and can physically work has a job. However, the Purdue University Extension safety specialist says that’s no excuse to hire the first person who responds to an ad.

Field teaches agro-security as a college course. Protecting your farm operation starts with hiring the right people, he says. Here are some things you can do:

Commitment to proper procedures and animal care must start at the top. The people at the highest levels of management set the tone, Field says. “They decide what practices are acceptable on their farm,” he notes. “It might be safety policy, it might be about sexual harassment or animal welfare.

“Whatever it is, management must buy in and put it in writing. Then it must be communicated to employees. It should be part of the new employee packet, and it ought to be taught during orientation. The key is to communicate it and make sure employees understand it.”

Hire qualified, quality people. This may seem like common sense, but Field says many people today are hired on the spot, without an interview — especially in the fast-food industry. “Take time to interview a prospective employee,” he says. “Talk to them and get a feel for what they’re like. Do they have the skills you need?”

Field also believes in expecting three references. It’s a warning sign if someone can’t provide them. “The biggest red flag of all is if you call one and all they say is, ‘Yes, that person worked here from this date to that date,’” he adds. “Some former employers won’t comment for fear of a lawsuit.”

Consider a probationary period. One option is to hire and notify the person that he or she is on probation for 30 days or more, until you see how they perform. Another option is to hire a person as a temporary employee. If you use a service to supply temporary workers, however, you may not know how well they’ve been screened, Field notes.

Implement consistency and consequences. Here’s where the rubber meets the road, Field says. Once you set and explain a policy, you must back it up. Will it be enforced the same for the manager’s son as for an hourly worker? While you don’t want to put yourself in a corner where you can’t manage with some flexibility, how you handle violations must be consistent. Consequences should be spelled out it advance.

Leave room for “grace.” Do you give an employee a second chance if he or she makes a mistake and violates a rule? “We all make mistakes, and in general, you want to give people a chance if you can,” Field says. “However, there are some cases where an offense is so grievous that you can’t take the chance.”

For example, sex offenders are put on lists with the intent that they aren’t ever allowed to work around children again. “There isn’t such a list for people who abuse animals, but maybe there should be,” Field says. “You must take that offense very seriously, as well.”

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