As the labor market in the dairy industry continues to tighten, employers are forced to become more creative in attracting employees. One option that many farmers have contemplated is offering housing. For the right farm, and the right manager, housing can be an excellent choice to put your farm above the rest. We’ve listed three pros and cons to help you decide if it’s the right decision for your farm.
3 benefits of providing employee housing on your dairy
Providing housing can greatly broaden the pool of candidates interested in your job. Rather than depending on locals, you can attract employees from other areas. Providing housing gives an added incentive for a candidate to move, and can help make their transition a lot easier – which can help lead to long-term employment. Providing housing is a great added benefit for an employee.
Having housing, especially on-site, can help improve efficiency throughout the farm. Gone are the days of employees calling in because the roads are bad and they can’t get to work. You can even ask employees to assist in maintaining the housing as a part of their job duties. With the recent political changes, many immigrant dairy workers are very concerned about their future. Providing housing can give them a great sense of relief and security, which can, in turn, improve their job performance.
There is a much higher sense of self-accountability when the employee lives on the farm. Being on-site may allow you to be more flexible in your scheduling and make it easier to handle emergency situations, such as an employee calling in sick. You also may be able to better utilize the family of an employee for filling in, and related employees may be able to cover their child care needs more easily if they live close to the farm.
3 challenges of providing employee housing on your dairy
Managing the housing
One of the biggest concerns regarding housing is having to manage it. However, a few steps can go a long way when providing housing. Write down your rules, regulations and expectations. Make sure these rules are written and translated in the language and wording that your tenants can understand. Walk through the housing with the employee and show them around. Have each tenant sign an agreement with the rules and how much you are charging, if anything. We also highly recommend doing periodic walk-throughs to check on the housing. However, you must provide your tenants with notice of a walk-through, and you must make the times convenient for the employee. Stay committed to walk-throughs and complete them regularly.
Cost of housing
Some employers are concerned about the cost of providing housing. However, if you’re having difficulties finding quality employees or keeping your employees around, ask yourself this: How much is it costing to not provide housing? Consider the value of having dependable employees over the cost of housing. It’s common for us to see an employee take a job that pays $11 per hour with free housing, over a job that pays $12.50 per hour without housing. Depending on your housing situation, you may be able to ask the tenants to cover the utility bills.
Another aspect to be aware of is the liability associated with providing housing. Being proactive about having a signed agreement, and doing scheduled walk-throughs, will go a long way in reducing any incidents. Be very clear on what is and what is not allowed on your property. Also, talk with your insurance agent about any additional insurance you may need to have.
Those who can’t, or don’t, want to take on the role of providing housing can take simple steps, such as assisting new employees in finding housing locally or renting a motel room for a few days, to help them settle in. Another option is to provide transitional housing. Have an apartment or house available for new employees to use for a certain amount of time (e.g., 90 days) until they can find their own housing. This can be a happy medium for some employers. Providing housing can be a difficult situation to navigate, but if done well and properly managed, it can help make your farm appealing to the best employees.
The authors are with AgriStaff USA LLC, a labor service agency serving the agriculture, food processing, manufacturing and cleaning industries. They are based out of Kiel, Wisconsin.