The Farm Workaholic: 7 Reality Checks and A Subscription to Making a Change

Farming is one of those businesses where you live at your workplace. There’s no line between work and home. It seems work is always just out the back door (because it is!) This can cause a farmer to become a workaholic. 

The reality is, working too much is killing farmers and their families.

Imagine your entire body slumped at the kitchen table, worn hands stroking graying hair and rubbing red, glassy eyes. Perhaps you don’t need to imagine it because it’s already your reality. 

When work is an addiction.

People with work addictions see their jobs “as an escape and find it difficult to be emotionally present to their families,” says Dr. Bryan Robinson. Robinson is the author of Chained to the Desk…a Guidebook for Workaholics, Their Partners and Children, and the Clinicians Who Treat Them

Many farm families push really hard in calving season, seeding, haying, and harvest…but a healthy farm family takes the time to renew, rest, recreate, and have fun. 

On the contrary, a workaholic follows self-imposed demands, can’t regulate their work habits, and just don’t know how to have fun with their families because they work too much.

Farm men tend to wake up one day in their late fifties and realize they haven’t developed any hobbies.

They know how to work, but as the signs of re-invention or retirement start appearing, they wake up knowing that work consumes them. Some of their spouses have even stopped asking for dates to have fun. 

Here’s why date nights are an important part of marriage fitness for farm couples.

Work addiction “masquerades as a positive addiction,” says Robinson. 

When did you ever hear someone praise the next generation for choosing not to put in the long hours as the farming founders did? (On that note, here are 10 Things Millenial Farmers Want)

The hard-working farmer is praised for always being in the field at sunrise, and working 16-hour days. He is deemed a “really hard-working guy” and wears this label like a badge of honor.

Did anyone ask the family members if Dad was present for the special parties, Sunday afternoon fun, or a child’s baseball game?

Men and women alike need to assess if they have supports built into their farm family habits to prevent workaholism from taking root.

7 Reality Checks for Farm Families

Robinson offers 7 reality checks every family should consider:

1. The source of work addiction is inside us.

Workaholics are not team players; they need to control, and they cannot delegate. Dad’s inability to let go and always work is his choice.

2. A workaholic creates stress and burnout for themselves and fellow workers.

While you may have clear boundaries about taking time off or having breaks, someone else on your farm could be pushing you to keep going when taking a rest would actually increase everyone’s productivity.

3. A workaholic operates from a Messiah Myth.

Workaholics operate from a Messiah Myth that says they have to do it all and save the company. 

They believe the myth that they’re superheroes who are wedded to their farms, causing them to have poor self–worth and difficulty with intimacy. They fear the loss of control.

4. Workaholics overextend themselves to fill an inner void.

A workaholic will try to fill this void to medicate emotional pain and repress a range of emotions. 

They tend to work for the sake of working. If you cannot unplug from your cell phone or email, technology is feeding your addiction.

[Tweet “7 reality checks for the #workaholic #farmer and how to put a stop to it.”]

5. The need for the ‘work high’.

The release of adrenaline creates physiological changes that lead to a ‘work high’ that becomes addictive. I wonder if this is the “high of seeding or harvest” which is followed by weeks of needing deep rest when the rush is over.

6. You do not need a job to qualify as having a work addiction.

Maybe you’re a “careaholic.” 

You are burning out as the caregiver of others and meeting the needs of others without taking care of yourself. Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect by Jonice Webb is a good resource.

7. Workers who live balanced lives are more efficient and productive.

They bring greater quality to the job because they are less stressed and have clearer minds.

Recovery requires some deep processing of the source of the pain coming from the inside of the person. Boundaries need to be set and time needs to be managed. 

For more boundary tools see Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No to Take Control of Your Life by Dr. Henry Cloud and the book Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives by Dr. Richard Swenson. 

It seems weird to say, but work needs to lighten up and play needs to be taken more seriously. 

Are you trying to fill the void of loneliness that has its roots in your childhood experience?

“Remove all hurriedness from your life” was the advice of one of my mentors: 

  • Let go of the motto “If you want it done right, do it yourself.”  
  • Don’t chime into the culture of  “nothing we do on this farm is ever good enough.”
  • Farm relationships crumble when pressed overtime by grumpy farmers addicted to work—don’t let your work style be manic and impractical. 
  • Use common sense!

Workaholics think they are only as good as their last project as their self-esteem tanks are running on empty. Performance is how they measure their worth.

But, remember: you are a human being, not a “human doing.”

“I’m so busy taking care of my family’s needs; I have no time to take care of myself!” is a prescription for poor health.

“The best predictor of a positive approach to work is a full life outside of work,” says Robinson. 

I recently met a very successful young farmer who finds riding horses a good break from the stress of managing a huge farm. His horses are in a joint venture, so he gets to play, not just do all the work. Take time each day to find a healthy pace and anticipate fun and fellowship away from the fence lines.

Ask yourself these questions:

  • I do a lot of ______?
  • Because it makes me feel ______?
  • And helps me hide my fear of ______?
  • The source of my belief comes from ______?

Dr. Val Farmer said, “workaholic farmers are lazy at relationships.” 

Discover ways to support your family’s healing from work addiction. Your family needs you to be present and to celebrate with them. Your farm business will thrive when the farm manager lives a balanced life. 

Re-invention at age 65 or beyond will not be a dirty word when you have intentionally taken time out to create hobbies and have fun with family. Here’s more on how farm family roles evolve

Google “workaholism leads to farm family unhappiness.” Then make some changes!

If you’re in need of some help for your farm family, including handling farm transitions and much more, I can help. 

If you enjoyed this article and you’d like to dive deeper, don’t miss these posts:

My 9 Top Tips for Loving a Farmer
Keeping Farm Transitions Fair
Managing Your Marriage in the Muck

This post was originally published on October 4, 2016, and has been republished. 

Fixing Your Time Stress Mess

60 minutes

Workaholics will discover helpful strategies for managing their time stress. Gain understanding for the tensions of your age and stage on the farm. Learn why some problems are not solvable, but just need to be managed as polarities. Self-renewing people are joyful and productive producers.


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