Wisconsin Potato and Vegetable Growers Association

Badger Common’Tater December 2015 Issue

Employee Retention in a Challenging Industry

By Mark Waschek, Vice President/Agronomy, Ag 1 Source

One of the biggest challenges in successfully managing a business is keeping your top employees. Every day, we visit with organizations throughout the Ag industry that are lamenting over the loss of a key employee and need us to find
a suitable replacement.

Unfortunately, when we ask these organizations why an employee left, they almost always answer with the wrong reason – MONEY!

Higher compensation may seem like a perfectly common and logical reason for employees to leave. In fact, a recent survey has shown that 89% of employers feel that money is the primary reason that employees leave. However, when the departed employees were interviewed, 88% of them left for reasons other than money. That is correct, only 12% of employees leave for better compensation!


There is a great quote that best explains this scenario: “Managers will not hear what employees are not saying.”

Think about this for a moment. This is a powerful quote that really speaks to that heart of this problem.

If a manager is not 100% engaged with their direct subordinates, it is very unlikely that they will understand the true reason why any given employee is leaving and they will certainly be too late to prevent that employee from departing.

Let us face it, a disengaged manager will be the last person to find out an employee is leaving.

The best way to understand why employees leave is to look at data compiled in recent industry surveys by the Gallup organization (if you are one of the 89% of employers that believe your employees are leaving for money, you may be surprised at the results):

  • 16% left due to limited career growth or opportunity.
  • 13% left due to lack of respect or support from their supervisor.
  • 12% left for higher compensation.
  • 10% left because they felt their job duties were unchallenging.
  • 9% left because of their supervisor’s lack of leadership skills.
  • 6% left for better work hours.
  • 5% left for unavoidable reasons (birth of child, family relocation, illness of family member, etc.).
  • 4% left due to a lack of recognition.
  • 4% left because of favoritism (to other employees) by supervisor.
  • 3% sought a new position as a result of a supervisor’s poor employee relations.
  • 3% took a new opportunity due poor working conditions.
  • 3% left due to lack of training, often to find an opportunity that provided more training.
  • 2% of job changers say they left due to supervisor’s incompetence.
  • 2% left an organization because they did not trust or support the senior leadership.
  • 1% left because they believed their supervisor’s lack of technical skills impacted their success.
  • 1% of departures were a result of discrimination.
  • 1% took a new position due to harassment.
  • 1% sought better benefits.
  • 1% became disgruntled and left due to co-workers’ attitudes.

This list is a very good representation of our industry. As recruiters, we talk to hundreds of disgruntled employees each week, and the reasons and percentages listed here are quite accurate.

As you review this list, there is one glaring thing that should stand out to you. Over 75% of employees leave because of a supervisor’s actions, or lack of engagement with that employee!

employee_engagementThink about this. How many employee departures would have been prevented if the manager engaged with the employee and worked through concerns BEFORE that employee looked for a new opportunity?

It is understandable that often it is difficult to stay engaged with every employee when you have a large number reporting to you.

However, there are some definite warning signs employees may exhibit that should alert you to an employee feeling they have unmet expectations:

  • Ask fewer questions than normal.
  • Exhibit a sudden change in demeanor.
  • Avoid greeting you or making eye contact.
  • Stop participating in meetings or discussions.
  • Ask more questions than usual about a particular issue or assignment, leaving you with doubts about their willingness to meet required expectations.
  • Increased absences.
  • Decreased performance.


The physical demands and drastic swings in workload and time commitment of crop production and the overall Ag industry can make employee retention a nearly insurmountable challenge.

However, the key to preventing that turnover is to understand what truly motivates your employees and what you can do to keep them motivated.

When you consider the gradual unfolding process of employee disengagement and their desire to seek a new opportunity, there can be only one conclusion: The need for managers to initiate action to engage and re-engage with employees is urgent and a daily opportunity.

As you think across your current group of employees, they probably fall into three groups based on their stage of development within the business: newbies, established and top people.

Here are some situations and appropriate engagement in which you can interact with your team in each of these stages:

FIRST, the newbies that started with you in the last 24 months require more coaching and teaching from supervisors because they have to learn technical requirements of the job as well as how to work with other team members, particularly when many aspects of planting and harvesting require synchronized teamwork.

When supervisors engage on a regular basis with these employees, particularly by coaching them past the hard work of spring, once they have figured out how to excel in their role, they will be left apt to wonder where they go from here once they completed their training because they will know where they stand.

SECOND, employees that have been with you two to five years have most things figured out and have mastered job responsibilities, which help minimize risks. This group needs less coaching on how to do their current role and more on how they can increase their production in the organization and assume additional responsibilities in their team.

While you will probably have less contact with this group than the newbies, a manager can assist with their development and build their loyalty to the organization with one-on-one conversations about “what can we add to your role and how can I help.”

This helps reinforce your engagement in their job growth and your desire to keep them around. Frequent, worthwhile interaction with this type of employees will help build management credibility and go a long way towards instilling pride in them towards the company.

THIRD, your top people have normally been around for a while, but they still need that pat on the back.

This group does not need much coaching or teaching and often focus further on wanting to know where the organization is going and what their role will be.

They also quite often want management to remove problems for them so they can charge ahead and continue to excel. The best thing supervisors of employees at this level can do is simply to ask the employees what the company can remove obstacles to insure that they can perform at their best level and what they perceive can be done for the company so it can operate at peak performance.

It is easy for managers to fall back into ‘command and control’ types of communication within the Ag industry. Spring and harvest seasons are tough on all involved and barking orders can be all too easy.

However, everyone across your employee base needs to hear you from you as an owner or manager and believe that you are engaged with him or her throughout the year, not just looking for someone to march when commanded to do so.

Interact with all your employees and get out in the trenches, but especially encourage your upper echelon of achievers. Make sure you know their career goals and ambitions and you will build their loyalty and keep them around for the long haul.

Mark Waschek is Vice President, Agronomy with Ag 1 Source, a leading recruitment and human resource consulting firm focused on assisting organizations throughout the agricultural industry find, engage and retain talented employees.

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December 2015 Badger Common'Tater

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