Farmers should focus more on human resources issues if they want to make their businesses resilient for the post-Brexit age, says Sharmon Blackwell, manager of CXCS’s HR Services department.
Extra attention to this area is necessary to ensure employees are as effective and productive as possible and to avoid potentially costly legislation breaches and legal disputes, says Ms Blackwell.
“With rules and regulations becoming ever-more complex – and the penalties for breaching them potentially high – it’s vital that farmers who employ staff have the correct policies and procedures in place.
“The explosion in the number of no-win-no-fee solicitors also means it’s more likely a disgruntled employee could bring a claim, so you need to prevent that from happening and respond to it in the correct way if it does.
“Just because an employer was legislation-compliant three years ago – or even one year ago – doesn’t mean they are now. The law is constantly changing and we’ve become a more litigious society.
“Historically, many farmers took a relaxed, informal approach to HR matters, so there’s still a lot of confusion surrounding, for example, the rules regarding self-employment and contracts of employment,” says Ms Blackwell.
“But whether you’re employing 1 person or 1,000, you need to take this seriously. If you’ve got employees, you need to get your HR right.”
As well as preventing and solving problems, prioritising this area can make a huge difference to a business’s performance, helping with staff recruitment, motivation and retention.
“It can be time-consuming and expensive to find and train the right people so, once you’ve got good staff, it’s important to keep them,” she says.
“In addition to any legal requirements, there is an increasing awareness in agriculture about the benefits of ongoing training and development because people are your biggest asset.
“Paying the proper attention to health and safety is also crucial if you want to avoid falling foul of the law and to be seen as a responsible employer.
“Farmers occasionally think HR is just boring paperwork, but doing it right can make a big, immediate difference to the bottom line.
“Farmers are under a huge amount of pressure to raise revenues and cut costs, so having properly trained, motivated, productive staff is more important now than ever.”
Sharmon heads up CXCS’s newly launched HR service, offering farmers and rural businesses support with everything from writing contracts and setting wages to running recruitment campaigns and managing redundancy situations.
She joined the Herefordshire-based firm with a wealth of experience gained in previous HR roles, including a spell with a fruit business employing 1,000 seasonal workers.
CXCS’s Managing Director Karen Powell adds: “It’s become increasingly clear during our conversations with farmers as we assisted them with their cross-compliance, BPS, farm assurance and health and safety paperwork that they would benefit from support with HR.
“There is a huge appetite for information and advice on such matters as occupational health, pay scales, tax and even disciplinary procedures.
“Many farmers are already great people-managers, but our service will help take them to the next level, creating even more efficient, profitable and enjoyable workplaces.”
Charges, which will start as low as about £200, will be based around three levels of support – gold, silver and bronze.
“Every farm is unique and our approach will depend partly on the number of employees, but our focus, as with all our advice, will be on what will make the biggest difference to the business,” says Karen. “It’s a flexible service, so we’re equally happy to give small, one-off pieces of advice or enter into ongoing, comprehensive partnerships.”