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Fired from the farm

Elaine Froese for Progressive Dairyman Published on 28 February 2019

As a farm family coach, I hear the struggles of farmers who are used to being able to quickly repair or fix problems that arise daily. When these hardworking, well-intentioned folks have a farming adult child who is not a good fit for the farm, great stress lingers far too long.

If you try to Google “how to fire your son or daughter on the farm,” you get farm safety information or farm gas line explosion stories. The explosion farms need tips on is how to fire a family employee graciously.

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Psychologist Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein suggests you may have resigned yourself to disrespect. Lack of respect is killing good farm businesses.

“You think because your adult child has problems, that lets them off the hook for showing heartfelt respect. You may notice he or she seems respectful when wanting something from you. Your adult child, however, turns on a dime or gets passive-aggressive if you re-frame that request. You feel worn down and accept this chaos as normal,” Bernstein says.

It’s time to stop the chaos.

What can you do?

1. Know you can get perspective on your situation from a coach or mental health professional. Bad behaviour on farms that never goes away is an indicator you have deep-rooted issues that need to be addressed.

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You are not to be bullied or manipulated by the emotional tornado that resides in your farming child. Communication is key to managing the storm.

While you are in the storm, it is a good idea to document in writing all the incidents foreshadowing that your son or daughter is not a good fit for your farm team. You can do this in a notebook or on your computer.

2. Be clear about what you expect from your employees, family and non-family. When the kids come back to the farm and start working again, typically, there is no employee contract with a job description, list of required skill sets or a farm meeting about expectations.

This is a huge trap for future problems. If your son or daughter needs to find another place of employment, you are the manager, and you need to act. Disrespect, passive-aggressive behaviour and avoidance of work are all energy drains from your business.

3. Have the conversation. At the beginning of the meeting, tell your son you are going to fire him. The conversation’s purpose is to be clear about the documented reasons he is not a good fit as an employee of your farm business.

This step is after you have already given three warnings that they are not performing well, and that losing a job on the farm may be a consequence if their performance does not improve.

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4. Treat your son or daughter with dignity, in a private space, with a closed door. You would be wise to have your trusted adviser or spouse with you when you do this as a witness to how you conducted the meeting.

5. Refer back to your written agreements about employment on the farm or the signed employee contract. Yeah, right, Elaine, no one on our farm has a contract. Exactly. An employee contract states reasons why an employee can be dismissed. If a son or daughter never had a written job description or a performance appraisal, there is no criteria for what is expected.

If you would like some quick templates for farm appraisals, email me with “performance review” in the subject line. Dick Wittman has a great farm management guidebook that has job descriptions and many helpful templates for you for less than $220.

6. Tell employees you have let a family employee go. There will likely be a sense of relief that a person who was draining energy and creating much conflict drama on the farm is no longer working there. That person is, however, still a member of the farm family.

This is where it gets complicated, as being fired from the farm means there will have to be lots of emotional work done to love the family member and continue family relationships.

You don’t have to explain why you fired the person, but you do want to tell your team gossip is not an option. Move on.

7. Consider counseling for grief. Losing the dream of having family members on your farm team is really hard. You will need to process the new reality of where your farm business is going, and you may feel guilty about not acting more quickly to address the poor performance and conflict.

I remember Dr. John Fast talking about the son “Chip” who was fired. Dad said: “Chip, you are fired from our team, but as your father I will be happy to help you find another job.”

The separation of the two systems, the family and the business has to be done very consciously, and it is not easy.

8. Read Dr. Henry Cloud’s book Necessary Endings.

Here are some thoughts for your fired son or daughter:

  • What is really important to you now, and what do you want to see happen?

  • What do you want your relationship to the family to look like when you leave the farm? You may want to do some healing work with a counselor and employment coach. You get to decide the healthy boundaries of the relationship. Your children need to have a connection to their grandparents. What baby steps can you take to build up the emotional bank account with your family?

  • What is your new income stream going to be, and where can you live? Update your résumé; lots of folks need your farm labour skills.

  • Network with friends and build a support group for your transition.

  • Grieve your losses and celebrate your successes. Be curious about ways you need to change to be respectful and emotionally healthy in your next job.

I once had a young couple who fired themselves from their family farm, as they could not get along with the parents.

They are now happily farming in a joint venture with a neighbour down the road, and they wrote me a wonderful letter to tell me how it all worked out. Getting fired is a transition. Improve and move on.  end mark

Elaine Froese, CAFA, CSP, CHICoach, helps farm families communicate and resolve conflict. Visit Elaine's online store to buy her books.

Elaine Froese
  • Elaine Froese

  • Certified Farm Family Coach
  • Email Elaine Froese

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