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How to make employee schedules work for everyone

Becky Rodriguez for Progressive Dairyman Published on 10 July 2018

Ah, yes, one of the dairy manager’s most cringe-worthy duties, creating the employee schedule. You think you have it all figured out, and then someone needs a day off, or better yet, your employees want a different schedule all together.

Trying to create a schedule that works for everyone is a surefire way to lose a few strands of hair. Not only do you have to consider the employees, but proper scheduling can have a great impact on the farm, directly influencing milk production, animal health and profitability.

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There are many contributing factors when creating schedules: You must consider appropriate hours for your employees while also balancing cost savings with the right number of employees to get the jobs done correctly yet efficiently. Creating an employee schedule for a dairy farm is like trying to complete a constantly changing puzzle, but it doesn’t always have to be so difficult. The most important pieces to keep in mind are maintaining consistency and comfort for the cows, the safety, health and well-being of your employees, and farm efficiency. Other considerations include farm size, milkings per day and pay system (per shift, salary or hourly). Ways of scheduling employees are nearly endless, but we’ll go over what employees prefer and how to make a system work for you.

What employees want

Having a good schedule is a key piece of attracting and retaining employees. It’s one of the top things an employee will consider when applying for a job. So what are dairy employees looking for nowadays? For general labor positions (milkers, feeders, etc.), most employees want eight to 12 hour shifts, ideally six days per week. It is most common to see farms work a six-day-per-week schedule, but other options that are growing in popularity are working three days on, one off; four on, two off; etc. Employees also tend to appreciate schedules where they are able to have one weekend day off per month. Straight shifts are by far the most popular, whereas split shifts are notoriously hard to fill and generally require a higher pay to compensate for less hours or having to drive to work twice.

Making it work

Now, how do we make it all work? Employee safety should always be the top priority, so ensure that your schedule is not asking too much of your employees because they will be too tired, leading to a higher risk of injury and mistakes. Next, of course, is finding the right schedule for your cows and your farm. First, ensure you maintain consistency for the cows, and then figure out how best to arrange employees’ schedules around that. There is no one method that works best for scheduling; it will vary with each farm and what works best for them. Once you find a schedule that works well, prepare written (English and Spanish) policies about your schedule, including vacation, days off, switching shifts and no-shows. Clearly define what is and is not acceptable, and the proper way your employees should handle these situations.

Follow up

Stay in touch with your employees to see how the schedule is working: Are they too tired? Do they want more hours? Do they need more or less time to complete their duties? Keeping an eye on employee engagement and quality of work can help you determine whether or not you should make changes to your schedule. At the end of the day, it’s about determining what works best for your cows, your employees and your farm, and creating a schedule around those needs.  end mark

Becky Rodriguez is with AgriStaff USA. Email Becky Rodriguez.

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