We’ve studied stress in the workplace for years to try to mitigate it. Organizations like Forbes and Careercast have even published their Top 10 lists of the most stressful jobs. The careers on these lists include firefighters, police, airline pilots, and surgeons, which makes sense because people in these jobs after all are responsible for lives. Teachers, broadcasters, and social workers also make the lists. Farmers do not.
However, a survey by Ginette Lafleur, a doctoral student at the Universite de Montreal, indicates that farmers are under stress like never before, and that this stress has increased dramatically over the last 20 years.
Her research was based on Quebec farmers, but my experience tells me the story across the country is quite similar. So, should farming be rated as a Top 10 job for high stress?
Of course, a variety of factors causes workplace-related stress, some of which are inherent to the job, while others are related to the conditions of an individual workplace, and still others are linked to the personality of the employee or business owner.
For instance, I love to speak at conferences, but my husband, who is a farmer, would be an insomniac if he had to speak in public. But then, I’d go crazy if I had to work as an accountant or a nurse, while some people find those professions deeply fulfilling.
So let’s take a look at 10 of the more common reasons we might call a job “stressful.” Remember, these can apply to your employees, and not just you and your family members.
1. The person who calls the shots is a jerk, idiot, or bully: If you have to work closely with such a person, they will impact your job satisfaction and stress level. Why? They are the ones who give you feedback, support you, promote you, and evaluate you. Your relationship with your “boss” is highly predictive of your happiness in your work.
2. Long hours: An inability to maintain a work-life balance can be a major source of stress.
3. Impossible deadlines: If you feel like you can’t meet important deadlines, performance and job satisfaction decrease.
4. Conflicts with peers: Peer conflict can be as draining as conflict with a boss.
5. Too much travel: Lack of consistency and difficulty establishing an appropriate work-life balance can be a consequence of too much travel.
6. Bureaucracy: Too many rules and regulations can prevent you from doing the most important aspects of your job.
7. Micromanagement: Too much supervision can be interpreted as a lack of trust on the part of your supervisor.
8. Lack of growth potential: We don’t work just for the financial return — we crave growth as a person.
9. Working conditions: Dangerous or uncomfortable work environments can exponentially raise stress levels.
10. Emotional labour: It can prove difficult when you are required to always keep your emotions concealed.
Still, many common farm stresses don’t appear on this list, such as having to deal with weather, thin profit margins, a lack of employees, and a next generation that doesn’t want to take on the farm, plus high debt and the lack of clear boundaries between work and family life, not to mention the perception of the public that sometimes seem to believe farmers are doing it all wrong.
Some of these stress factors have been there forever, but some are quite recent and are making farming more stressful.
However, we have to remember that the picture is not black and white. The negatives of farming are sometimes counteracted by the most satisfying aspects of the industry.
- You feel a real sense of accomplishment. Your work is meaningful and important. That sense of meaningfulness might compensate for a boss who acts like a jerk or a brother-in-law who is always critical.
- You feel you are competent and have control of your job, which might compensate for the long hours.
- You have meaningful relationships at work and can joke together about the bureaucracy at the bank.
Of course, our personality — the way we think, feel and act in daily life — influences the way we respond to the positive and negative conditions of our jobs. And our accumulated actions, feelings and thoughts make a huge difference over time. This explains why some farmers are more stressed than others. Some have made choices that result in negative consequences, a few should not be farmers at all, some have developed resilience, and others have cultivated good habits and a philosophical approach to work and life.
At the end of the day, it’s important that the person fits the job. Is your temperament compatible with your surrounding environment, workload, and people?
Being a farmer isn’t easy. I have lived my whole life on farms. As a psychologist and coach, I have spent my whole career with farmers. Over the years, external conditions have changed — and not always for the best. However, in the same profession, some are satisfied and others are highly stressed and unhappy. It seems it’s not always the job itself that causes stress.
You can make a difference in your own stress levels. Can you bring something to the equation that will alleviate the effects of the stressors of farm life?