By Deborah R. Huso
Vacations make managers better
Unlike a lot of soybean and corn producers in their generation, Ron and Martha Young have made time off a priority ever since they married shortly after graduating from college. They have about 2,000 acres near Carlinville, Ill., and have farmed together for 40 years.
“Because farming is so intense when we’re doing it, we have to get away,” Martha says. They try to take at least two trips each year, one of which usually involves skiing out west in the winter. The vacation aligns perfectly with the production schedule of a row-crop farmer.
Just knowing a vacation is around the corner helps motivate the two amid challenges on the farm, Martha explains. They recently went sailing in the Virgin Islands and spent 10 days in Germany. “It’s like a cleanse,” she says. “You have to be away long enough to recharge your batteries.”
The intense nature of agriculture makes downtime important.
“I think most people would be struck by how relentless commercial farming in any form is,” notes Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles. “The cows have to be milked every day, the eggs pulled every day. The cows don’t know it’s Christmas.” Illness, weather and broken equipment can conspire further to make a farming career one of constant stress.
Why Breaks Are Important. Yet producers have more trouble getting away than about any other segment of working society. “Commercial farmers know that even one week could break their business, so a vacation can become an issue of sitting tense for a week and staring at the phone,” Durvasula adds.
To combat the stress that often accompanies travel outside the farm, Durvasula recommends shorter getaways close to home. Trekking two hours away instead of across the world means if something goes wrong, a producer can get home quickly.
Many struggle with the idea because “they didn’t grow up having vacations or seeing their parents take them,” says Dr. Val Farmer, a clinical psychologist and agricultural news columnist in St. Louis. A new generation of farmers is giving more attention to family relationships.
Grain producers tend to have more flexibility than livestock producers because they don’t have to care for animals daily, Farmer says, and they can often manage a summer break during the family travel season. For livestock producers, he recommends winter trips.
“You need to have trust in someone who will manage for you while you’re away,” he says.
Find Temporary Help. Grown children might be one option. The Youngs have their 37-year-old son manage the farm during trips.
Planning is critical even when family is involved. “You need to develop structures and policies on vacation time and come up with a policy that’s fair for everyone,” Farmer advises. “If you have one person taking vacations while another is not, that’s going to create resentment.” The Youngs exchange breaks with their son so he can spend time with his wife and children.
For those who cannot commit to a getaway solely focused on relaxation, Farmer points out producers can go on farm tours in places such as Europe, Russia and Brazil. “It can help you come up with big ideas and learn new things,” he explains. “You’ll come home with new juice for your own operation.”
What will happen if you forego vacation time? Likely nothing good. Producers who work relentlessly without taking downtime for themselves or their families are at risk of “damaging relationships, marriages in particular,” Farmer cautions. “Learning to enjoy life and let go frees up your mind to be more creative and less stressed out.”
Paid-Leave Trends Among Private Industry Employees
84%- Receive leave in the form of vacation, holiday or personal time
72%- Receive paid holidays as well as paid vacation
61%- Are covered by some form of sick leave plan
6.9%- Amount of total compensation that goes toward leave benefits
Americans’ Vacation Days Languish
A recent online survey reveals producers aren’t alone in leaving vacation time untouched, career website Glassdoor reports. Respondents who identified themselves as full- or part-time employees used 51% of their allotted paid time off, on average. Of those who took time off, 61% report spending at least some of their time working for the following reasons:
33%- No one else can do the work
28%- Fear of getting behind
22% - Complete dedication to company
19% - Want a promotion
19% - Feel like they can’t be disconnected
18% - Want a pay raise
17% - Afraid of not meeting goals
17% - Fear of losing job
16% - Believe working is better than not working
13% - Want to outperform colleagues