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Phil Hughes

Phil Hughes

May 2018

New Staff Orientation – Best Practice

The 1st of June is fast approaching and, with that, you may have new staff moving onto your farm.

This is a critical time for new employment relationships. There is a mix of excitement for new beginnings and yet this can also be a stressful time for your new staff member and their families. They usually have to move their household, settle kids into new schools and re-establish themselves in a new team and environment.

A little extra effort into settling-in and planning for the first month of work, should carry through to a good employment outcome.

Settling in:

Like most things to do with staff, communication is the key. Now is the time to ring new staff to confirm settling-in plans and make sure the lines of communication are open.

Moving in dates and co-ordination:  Follow up any phone calls with an email, so both parties know exactly what’s happening and have correct contact details.

First impressions: Small things impress. Ensure the house is spotless and the yard tidy (even if it was not left clean). I am always impressed when employers leave something in the fridge for the first few days. We’ve seen a cooked meal and chocolates left on the kitchen bench. Small touches leave a lasting impression on new staff members, but even more so, on their partners. And we all know how important partners are to a long and happy employment relationship!

House insulation: The new insulation rules come into force next year, but why wait? Cold houses will not keep staff.

Orientation folder: More paperwork I hear you say! No, this does not have to be complicated. We’ve seen simple orientation folders that work fine, with printouts of information which you probably already have:

  • A welcome letter
  • Your vision for the farm and the team culture you expect
  • Key contact details including of other staff and emergency numbers
  • A farm map
  • Key farm figures such as production history, size, cow numbers, feeding regimes.
  • A broad work plan for the first month
  • House rules
  • Farm Health and safety rules

Final checks on documentation:

Remember that employment agreements must be signed before a staff member starts work.

Your employee should also have a job description and understand the requirements of the role and level of expectations. If done well, a job description can later be used for performance reviews.  

Hopefully your new employee has signed a pre-employment declaration before the job offer. Otherwise, get it done now, so that there are no surprises after they start work.  This can cover declarations on health issues, police history, drug declarations and driver’s licence validity. We also like to get a farm skills checklist signed-off, to highlight any skills areas that need work.


Once your new staff member has moved on farm we suggest a good orientation of the farm showing hazards to avoid; where the first aid kit is kept; location of tools; and machinery maintenance rules.

This is a good time to cover your health and safety policy and explain it clearly. After they have been through it, set some fun questions to answer in a group, as different staff members can give input from different points of view, and enhance best practice in this critical area. It is wise to document your orientation and have the employee sign it to ensure they fully understand what was covered off.

Most importantly, though, staff need a good introduction to each other. Remember you have seen their CV and know their history but the other staff probably don’t. A great practice is to assign a ‘buddy’ to a new employee to guide them in the first few weeks.

Have your training plans in place, as not everyone comes with all the skills required for the role. We commonly get feedback from candidates looking for a new job that, at the interview, they were promised training but the employer never made time for it. It is a good idea to commit some training dates onto the yearly planner (they can always be adjusted later).

On-going staff feedback is key. We find regular and less formal meetings work well, so that small issues can be addressed and ironed out quickly.

The more effort you make now to implement best practice in new staff integration, the more productive, engaged and happier staff will be. It’s not rocket science. It’s human science.