Today, May 28th, is the "May Term", a day when farm workers traditionally changed jobs and tenant farmers started or ended their tenancies.

Many of my grandfather's generation treated their workers badly and often referred to them as "farm servants". They worked long, hard hours, often for low rates of pay that included rent-free, poor-quality, tied cottages as part of their terms of employment. Many were attracted to farm work by those tied houses as it was often their only way of providing a roof over their family.

Times change and the farm workforce has dwindled to a fraction of what it once was. Better employment terms specified by the Scottish Agricultural Wages Board, auto-enroll pensions, record low UK employment levels and increased competition for workers throughout Europe all add pressure to farm labour costs and availability. Throughout the food supply chain businesses are finding it more and more difficult to attract and keep the staff they need. It's more important than ever to be the employer of choice and get the best from the workforce.

While the current labour shortage facing agriculture has been well reported, some experts argue this is partly due to a shortage of good employers. With that in mind, independent business consultant Dr Nollaig Heffeman shared her tips for becoming an employer of choice and improving staff recruitment and retention at an AHDB (Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board) event in Lanarkshire earlier this month.

Based in Ireland, Dr Hefferman has spent many years in the field of leadership and workplace psychology and says that the best businesses have leaders who are self-aware, interested in people, eager to improve the business and have a strong understanding of their own dispensability. They also invest in their own personal development as well as their team's.

She said: "Professional development is critical and while employers have strong opinions about whether to train their staff or not, they are often surprised to hear that they should look at their own training first and invest in their own ongoing professional development, especially in the disciplines of management and leadership.

"A critical differentiator between good and poor employers is the willingness to invest in their staff as an asset. This involves providing or paying for skills training, not begrudging time off to do the training and ensuring a supportive environment that has a tolerance for trial and error in the initial learning phases."

Farming is unique because so many people have grown up with it, and have gathered a huge volume of experience before they even became an adult. It is ingrained and can be hard for new staff (especially those not from a farming background) to replicate.

Dr Hefferman explained: "Some farmers/managers can have a lack of tolerance expecting people to quickly get to their level, not so much with those without agricultural experience, but with those new staff members who do have that background. If they don't pick things up quickly, the manager can be frustrated, but if the employee doesn't "get it", it usually isn't their fault, it's poor management, not explaining, or not being clear - not checking they understood what was expected.

"Really good leaders ask themselves what they have done wrong when their employee makes a mistake.

"If an employee can't do the job, the employer is to blame,

"If the employee won't do the job, the employee is to blame.

"Good employees don't just happen, they are created by good employers."

She went on: "Farmers often suffer from the need to always be doing, to feel they are actively farming, but management is about thinking/planning - don't employ someone and then do it yourself. Train/explain, make sure they can do what you need them to do. When you carry the wrong person you are rewarding them and disempowering other team members who are doing a good job and have to carry a poor performer."

Paying the right rate of pay for each job role is important. Evaluating the job roles in a business can help to set appropriate pay scales that reflect the tasks, responsibilities and language skills required of individual members of a team.

According to Dr Hefferman the most important factor in job satisfaction is achievement and recognition, which keeps people motivated. The leading cause of job dissatisfaction is lack of role clarity, not understanding what is needed or expected.

An interesting tip she gave her audience was that when employees leave, the employer should carry out an exit interview and be prepared for an awkward conversation, and for criticism, adding that knowledge will help the employer develop.