Top 5 Farm Employee Complaints in 2024

April 17, 2024

It's always good to know if other growers share the labor challenges you face. And while we strive to do the best for our employees, there are always opportunities to improve. To help our growers do this, Harvust collects anonymous employee feedback automatically after every training. Across all of our growers, employees submit thousands of comments voicing their opinions about their jobs. The vast majority: >98% of comments are positive; growers on Harvust have great relationships with their employees. I've analyzed and condensed the feedback data to uncover the five most common complaints. Look at your operation for these issues and address them before they later cost you compliance fines or lawsuits.

1. Equipment Issues

This is a major recurring issue; not only can it affect safety, but it can also impact productivity. 

Damaged or old equipment is mentioned frequently, specifically on vehicles and implements—things like brake failures, lubrication issues, hitch problems, lighting, etc. Workers mentioned how there have been near misses where implements failed in a way that could have caused injury. Workers also frequently mentioned attempting to solve the issue themselves but needed more time or tools to do it properly.

Vehicles weren't the only equipment that farm employees were concerned about. They also mentioned that defective PPE was impacting their productivity, so they wouldn't use it or that the PPE they were given could have been more effective. In at least two cases, employees were buying their own PPE because farm management wouldn't listen to them.

Because equipment is tangible, workers are quick to recognize issues with it (especially ones that are impacting their efficiency). Ag employers should listen to the suggestions they provide. We've seen our growers do this by using our two-way chat tool, which allows you to reply directly to a farmworker's comment and chat with them (automatically translated!) to find a solution while they remain anonymous.

2. General Safety Concerns

Field employees raised concerns about the orchard floors having a lot of holes and unevenness that have caused slips, trips, and falls. There were also a few reports of employees operating equipment too fast or in unsafe surroundings. Since it's out of your control if employees decide to operate equipment they are not supposed to, we've seen growers train all employees on safely working around equipment. That way, everyone can at least be more aware. I remember picking apples for the first time, how I wished I had training on tractor awareness, and how I needed to squish up against the trees so the bin could be pulled. We have several equipment training topics you can use with our farm safety training software.

3. Supervisory Issues

Supervisors are critical to operations, but that positioning makes them a double-edged sword. Supervisors are also a major source of liability. The most common complaint about supervisors is that they do not listen to their employees' needs and do not proactively help employees who are having difficulty completing tasks. There are also, of course, allegations of favoritism. If you are an H-2A employer, you got to be extra careful on this! From the data, farmworkers are looking for servant leaders in the field, and some mayordomos are not fulfilling that role.

4. Interpersonal Challenges

Policing the interactions between employees is always tough, and it's even tougher on a farm where people and management are spread out. We see examples of this from minor things like employees playing music too loud and not being willing to turn it down when asked, to severe stuff like sexual harassment. H-2A workers are especially prone to interpersonal challenges as they also live with their coworkers, and conflict inevitably spills into the workplace. Almost all complaints of this nature included a perception of things being "unfair," that while they (the employee complaining) followed the rules, other employees were not disciplined for violating them. This tracks with what I've heard about discipline reporting: it's not used enough. This is a risk to the business because a well-documented history of coaching and discipline can help defend the company if things worsen. As hinted by the feedback, consistently applying discipline in the field will improve employee morale and engagement because everyone feels they are being treated fairly.

5. Bathrooms

Complaints about bathroom cleanliness are subjective to each farmworker's preferences. While you may be meeting the legal standards, some employees may feel you're not doing enough. I've heard stories of a farm with a specific bathroom maintenance team, and farmworkers were still complaining about it. It's also important for workers to understand that they have a part to play in keeping things nice for everyone.

If you recognize some of these employee complaints, you are not alone! If some of these complaints are new to you, ask your workers if they consider them an issue but haven't said anything. This will demonstrate your proactive approach to listening to them and acting to improve their work lives. If you'd like to receive this feedback regularly from your employees, check out our farm labor management software.

(yes, you're going to end up on our email list, but we don't send that many)

(yes, you're going to end up on our email list, but we don't send that many)


James Christopher Hall

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