Farm management specialist reminds farm employers to focus on employee well-being

Iowa State University Extension
Corn stover bales.

AMES, Iowa – The late-spring heatwave that blanketed Iowa and much of the Midwest is a reminder for farm employers and employees to focus on human resources.

Melissa O’ Rourke, fam management specialist with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach, said people are the most valuable asset in a farm or rural business.

“In any business, including farming, the most important resource is the people,” O’Rourke said. “We need to do whatever we can to preserve and protect what I think of as a priceless resource – our people.”

O’Rourke said it’s common for a farm business to begin within a family — and human resources may not be the first thought that comes to mind. But as the business grows, so does the need for labor and employee engagement.

The Checklist for Iowa Agricultural Employers covers information such as how to recruit candidates and conduct interviews, how to evaluate candidates and make a selection, employee policy documents, and federal and state forms that must be completed. The checklist also provides updated links and resources that take the user to extension information, as well as state and federal websites.

Several new resources have been added that cover worker classification, job analysis and creating job descriptions.

“It’s important that farm and ag business employers think about the business needs, and clearly define what skills and qualifications can be the key to guiding an effective hiring and employee retention strategy,” said O’Rourke, who is also a licensed attorney.

Although a farm may not have a full human resources department, O’Rourke said it really only takes a few minutes to address most of the concerns employers and employees may have. 

She said employers can make use of posters from OSHA to explain basic safety concepts such as avoiding heat stress, and that posters can easily be hung in places where they will serve as reminders to workers. 

She also advises employers to take advantage of safety talks with their employees and to include heat stress prevention as one of the topics. It takes as little as five minutes to remind employees what to do and what resources are available.

The talk may be as simple as reminding everyone where water is located, when breaks can be taken, and any changes to the day’s schedule to work around the heat. Keeping everyone informed can also help boost worker morale and enthusiasm, in addition to protecting their physical health.

“These are small things that can be quick reminders to keep ourselves safe and to watch out for others,” she said. “So often, that is all it takes is that reminder.”

For more information, visit the Ag Decision Maker online. O’Rourke can be reached at (563)382-2949 or morourke@iastate.edu.