Work life Balance

It’s never been easy to balance work with family. But in an era when fewer farmers cover more acres for less money per bushel, it might be tougher for some people now than it has ever been.

The fact is that people in agriculture like to talk about “rural values” but they don’t always follow through on what that means.

“We like to talk about the rural work ethic,” says Paul Lasley, a longtime professor of rural sociology at Iowa State University. “But that idea brings up the logical question of work-life balance.”

And when farmers are struggling with low prices or slim profit margins the natural inclination is to work a little longer or a little harder in hopes of making a difference, Lasley says. The key is not to get carried away with that idea that “If I just work a few hours more” things will be OK.

Farmers who are working longer hours on the farm, working an off-farm job, or who are looking to cut discretionary spending or reduce the amount of time spent with family or at school or community activities may be struggling.

“All of those things start taking an emotional toll,” Lasley says.

Mike Rosmann, a psychologist and farmer from western Iowa, says that rural communities and schools are struggling with how to help stressed-out farmers as well as how to help people balance their work and family needs. As rural populations shrink, it can be more difficult in some areas to find volunteers to help with church or school activities or with other community organizations.

Sometimes the key is just to take a step back and understand that nobody can do it all, Lasley says.

“We went through some of this 30 years ago,” he says. “We see some of the same symptoms (of stress).”

He adds that it won’t do anyone any good to save the farm if they lose their family in the process. Those who can organize their time in a way that allows some time for a healthy work-life balance will survive longer as farmers because they will be happier and healthier.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.