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Woes of the workaholic

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairyman Published on 12 September 2016
Different methods of work

Sometimes the overwhelming demands of farming cause the entire body to slump at the kitchen table. Worn hands stroke graying hair, and eyes are reddened and glassy. Farming is one of those businesses where you live at your workplace.

There is no line between work and home. It seems that work is always just out the back door. Working too much is killing farmers and their families.



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

Dairy families know the constant stress of cow care and milking, but healthy families take time to renew, rest, recreate and have fun. Workaholics follow 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 50s and realize that they haven’t really 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 stopped asking for dates to have fun.

Work addiction “masquerades as a positive addiction,” Robinson says. When did you ever hear someone praise the next generation for choosing not to put in the long hours like the farming founders did?

The hard-working farmer is praised for always being in the barn at sunrise and working 16-hour days. He’s 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 support built into their family habits to prevent workaholism from taking root. Here’s Robinson’s reality check:

  1. The source of work addiction is inside us. Workaholics are not team players; they need to control, and they can’t delegate. Dad’s inability to let go and always work is his choice.

  2. Workaholics create stress and burnout for themselves and fellow workers. You may have clear boundaries about taking time off or having breaks, but someone else on your farm is pushing you to keep going when taking a rest would actually increase everyone’s productivity.

  3. Workaholics operate from a Messiah myth that says they have to do it all and save the company. They believe the myth that they are superheroes, wedded to their farms. They actually have poor self-worth and difficulty with intimacy. They fear loss of control.

  4. Workaholics overextend themselves to fill an inner void, to medicate emotional pain and to repress a range of emotions. They tend to work for the sake of working. If you can’t unplug from your cellphone or email, technology is feeding your addiction.

  5. The release of adrenaline creates physiological changes leading 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 don’t need a job to qualify as having a work addiction. Maybe you’re a “careaholic.” You’re 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 inside the person. Boundaries need to be set and time needs to be managed. For more boundary tools, see Boundaries by Henry Cloud and John Townsend, and the book Margin by 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 a 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 in to the culture of “Nothing we do on this farm is never 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’re only as good as their last project, as their self-esteem tanks are running on empty. Performance is how they measure their worth.


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.” Ouch! That’s a prescription for poor health.

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

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 _________?

Val Farmer said, “Workaholic farmers are lazy at relationships.” Discover ways to support your family’s healing from work addiction. Call your local farm stress line.

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’ve intentionally taken time out to create hobbies and have fun with family.

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

Elaine Froese loses all track of time when she is coaching and speaking to farm audiences. She likes to visit friends, camp, paint, garden, kayak and walk with her farm husband. Send her your best renewal ideas for farmers. Email Elaine Froese or call (866) 848-8311.