How to Promote Work-Life Balance in Agribusiness: 5 Tips from Agriculture Recruiters

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8 Minute Read
Posted by Lori Culler
Work-Life Balance in Agribusiness

Learn actionable tips for encouraging a better work-life balance from agriculture recruiting experts.

More employees than ever are viewing work-life balance as a deal breaker in their careers.

At its core, the goal of work-life balance is overall stress reduction. It is a proven fact that taking the time to learn how to make room for balance can benefit both your employees’ wellbeings and overall work output.

Unfortunately, the unique demands and stresses of farming make this easier said than done. In a time when environmental sustainability gets a spotlight, workforce sustainability is often neglected.

To many people in the agriculture industry, the movement to prioritize work-life balance can simply seem at odds with the traditional farming lifestyle and rural work ethic. In communities where hard work and agriculture are a proud part of one’s identity, it can be difficult to create separation, especially for family businesses where employees live where they work.

To top it off, when you combine volatile seasonal changes with a tight labor market, a “break” just does not seem realistic. Agriculture’s reputation for poor work-life balance further compounds the cycle by discouraging potential agribusiness recruits, putting even more strain on current employees and reducing retention.

In this guide we’ll discuss some tips you can use to reap the benefits of work-life balance within your organization.

1. Communicate With Your Employees

Facilitating open communication is one of the most effective and straightforward ways for both employers and employees to get feedback about what is working in the workplace and what is not.

Although no one likes bad news, when you’re running a business, there is no question that hearing it sooner is better than later. A method to make sure your employees are comfortable with coming to you is to model transparency and to be approachable. Share as much information as you can from the top-down, and you will notice your employees starting to do the same.

Encourage feedback by asking for it routinely, and when necessary provide the opportunity for anonymous input. This shows you value their opinions and perspectives and increases employees’ sense of personal investment in the business.

Aside from business talk, encourage conversations about life outside of work. Talk about your kids’ achievements, fun weekend plans, as well as the hardships and stresses of life. Showing that you are a real human being and modeling some separation between work and personal life, such as taking time off to care for a family member or spend extra time with your partner and kids, will show your employees that it is ok (and human) to do the same.

In addition to building trust and respect among your workforce, maintaining an open channel of communication will also make it easier to spot signs of burnout among your employees and contributes to your company’s culture.

2. Think About Your Workplace Culture

Whether you consciously curated your workplace’s culture or simply let it develop over time, your workplace has a culture. The quality and characteristics of your workplace culture not only contribute to job satisfaction and morale among current employees, but can attract (or discourage) future recruits.

Take a moment and list the qualities and values of your ideal workplace from an employee’s perspective, and contrast them with the personality of your business.

Now step back and observe the environment. Do people feel welcome? Is there respect between coworkers and towards management? Are employees comfortable coming to management with problems or for support? Are employees engaged with their work, or are they disconnected? Do your workers band together to tackle problems head-on, or are things brushed under the rug?

Consciously foster community. A feeling of camaraderie from strong relationships between your employees contributes to a more productive and healthier working environment. This sense of community creates happier employees, and reduces stress and burnout. Employees will be more engaged and feel a personal investment in their work.

Camaraderie happens between people who feel valued as individuals, are able to trust each other, and work towards a common goal. As an employer, encourage teamwork, facilitate open communication about work (and personal life), and prioritize respect between employees and management. Celebrate wins and milestones - both professional and personal.

This team will not only be able to laugh together but bounce back from hardships better.

3. Know the Signs of Burnout

All workers in all industries experience stress at one point or another - the concern is when this stress snowballs and turns into burnout that affects day-to-day work and personal life. Unfortunately, certain characteristics of the agriculture industry make it especially prone to burnout.

Agriculture naturally requires a unique level of commitment and hard work. Employees in agriculture reflect not just that, but also an admirable high level of pride and independence in what they do.

The stressful and demanding nature of the industry is compounded by a tight labor market that perpetuates the cycle and increases stress on already overworked employees, who by nature might be less likely to seek support.

As an employer, taking the time to recognize signs of burnout and to find ways to reduce stress for your employees can benefit not only your employees’ wellbeings and foster a caring work culture, but enhance your overall work output and productivity. Not to mention, the consequences of burnout will cost your business more in the long run in terms of reduced retention and turnover costs.

Some of the signs of burnout are more obvious than others. In the beginning, the signs may be subtle - your usually peppy and optimistic employee starts seeming duller and is losing interest in their work. They might be uncharacteristically forgetful, start neglecting their personal needs, and are no longer giving their work duties 100%.

Eventually, the stress becomes chronic. Your employee is consistently fatigued and might completely miss a work-related goal. Although you might not see it, they are relying more on escapism and no longer find joy in their hobbies. Your once-optimistic employee is now apathetic or even cynical and has withdrawn from their social circles.

Knowing the signs is the first step. The next step is to take efforts to alleviate strain on current employees.

4. Lighten the Load for Your Employees

With a limited workforce and jobs that can’t wait, it can be especially difficult to find ways to lighten the workload for your employees. However, it is important to remember doing the job well is more important than getting the job done and actually saves you resources in the long run.

Aside from attracting more hires, which is arguably the most clear-cut way of easing the strain on current employees, there are other methods you can use to relieve the pressure and avoid burnout.

  • Implement mandatory cut-off times. While many employees will work extra hours into the night without being asked to, adequate sleep is important both for overall health and general work performance. Your sleep-deprived employee is not only more likely to make mistakes that take time and resources to undo, but could put themselves and others at risk.
  • Rotate shifts. Rotating shift times and responsibilities can help employees by not only avoiding consistently late hours, but by keeping things interesting. However, try to keep employee preferences in mind - don’t give your employee a shift they hate if you can avoid it, as this will decrease engagement and overall job satisfaction.
  • Encourage communication. This includes management clearly defining job expectations and responsibilities, as well as employees admitting when they need help. Foster a community and culture where people feel comfortable leaning on each other for assistance.
  • Offer flexible options when possible. Allow employees to go home early, take time off to spend with family, or care for family matters. Peak season or not, your employees are human and not just workers on the farm. When you acknowledge they have lives outside of the farm that take priority, it takes away some pressure and allows them to rest more fully, which translates into improved engagement and workplace performance.

It is important to note that modeling these behaviors yourself is the best way to ensure your employees take it seriously. Your employees look up to you as an example of what is acceptable in your establishment - if they see you throwing self care to the wayside in favor of “just getting it done,” they will take that to mean it should not be important to them either.

Lastly, offer resources for professional mental health help. Make yourself aware of local resources and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255. Additionally, 1-800-FARM-AID is available from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays for anyone wanting to talk about their struggles.

5. Attract New Hires

Common sense states that the most straightforward way to lighten your employee’s load and avoid burnout is to attract new hires. This can feel tricky when you have the industry’s reputation for poor work-life balance working against you, but with some reflection and creativity, you might find there are some avenues you have not tried yet.

  • Think about your company’s culture. Put yourself in your employees’ shoes - would you recommend your friends work at this business? What would it take to create an environment you would be proud to work for?
  • Prioritize work-life balance. Proving you view employees as human beings and not just cogs in the machine can help attract new hires that were otherwise turned off by the reputation of the industry.
  • Evaluate what your company has to offer. Think not only about pay, but about benefits and perks. You are competing not only against other businesses within the agriculture industry, but against other industries. At the bare minimum employees should be compensated fairly for their labor, but what else do you offer? How do your insurance and time-off policies stack up? Company outings, free lunches, and wellness incentives are some other affordable ideas.
  • Consider alternate sources of labor. Advertise to college students looking for evening hours, and partner with industries that have opposite peak seasons or flipped hours. An agriculture recruiting firm can also help do some of the work of attracting new talent.
  • Be selective. Although fresh recruits may be hard to come by, hiring an employee who truly wants to be there and is dedicated to what they do can save you time and resources hiring a replacement in the long run. Consider how this person will contribute to the workplace chemistry and environment.

Remember - after you do the work to find new employees, you have to do the work to keep them. Be the kind of employer you would want to work for.

Concluding Thoughts

While it isn’t always easy, there are ways to create room for work-life balance at your farm operation or agribusiness. It is important to understand that neglecting to create a balance between work and life is counterproductive and actually damaging in the long run for both your employees and your business.

Need help with your agriculture recruitment or agriculture executive search? AgHires is a leader in recruiting and job advertising for agriculture, food production, horticulture, agronomy, and more.

Lori Culler

Lori Culler

Lori Culler (Lennard), founder and owner of AgHires, grew up in and around the Agricultural Industry on her family's 3rd generation potato, tomato, and grain operation in Southeast Michigan and Northern Indiana.