Embracing boundaries allows all family members to grow at work, and at home.
Written for Farm Futures and originally published 3/14/23.
Have you ever heard that Good Fences make good neighbors? It’s true even within family farms.
How many hours can you expect from yourself? How much time does it take to complete all the work and still have time for some of the kids’ events? Even if you want to work 90 hours a week, do the next generation and your employees find this an enticing lifestyle?
As a farm owner, there is never true balance because, ultimately, what happens on your farm falls on one set of shoulders. Yours. Instead of looking for the elusive balance between work and family, look for boundaries.
Are they just lazy?
It might be easy to assume that the next generation doesn’t want to work. This attitude was recently summed up by a highly successful dairy farmer in California to me recently. “My work is only one of many things that defines me as a person. It’s not the only thing.” More often, we find all generations like to work, but with boundaries.
For example, a young dairy farmer recently expressed frustration with when his father wants to talk business. Dad always wants him to stop by the office after work. Meanwhile, Jr’s supper is getting cold, and his family is waiting for him at home. Unfortunately, these late-night meetings are how they conduct most of their business.
Another example is always being “on call.” There is often the expectation that calls and texts must be answered immediately. You respect your employee's time off the clock, so why not respect each other’s time off the clock within the family circle?
Self-governance in work and communication boundaries often solves these work-life balance challenges. Is it necessary that Jr. Is at the farm at the exact same hours as Dad, or can he come early and leave early? Can Jr. work on his laptop remotely? Is there a way to give each employee, including family, a rotating set number of “recharge hours” off, even during busy times? We have seen farms prescribe date nights for the owners a month in advance to reconnect with spouses and family. There are many ways to build choice and autonomy into work and work schedules. The key is having the work and time off agreements clear and fair.
Agree on boundaries for when people are expected to answer their phones and remain in contact. Agree there will be specific times that people will NOT be available. Experiment with when certain topics are discussed and find a balance in communication tools. Some communication is best handled with a group text, other times email, a telephone call, or a scheduled face-to-face meeting. Find a balance of both content and tools.
Creating and keeping boundaries in a family business is hard but worthwhile. Embracing boundaries allows all family members to grow at work and at home. With a few boundaries, both the business and family are stronger. “Good fences make good neighbors,” and that’s especially true with family.