Relationships suffer when someone discovers that decisions are being made by others that affect their happiness and well-being, yet they are not allowed to have input in those decisions. “If you did that without me knowing, what else have I not found out about?”

This lack of trust creates communication barriers between family members and among your work force. As a result, individuals withdraw and become reluctant to share their inner-most personal feelings with others. Once this trust is destroyed, open and honest communications cease due to a lack of respect. How can you communicate with a person you don’t respect? How can you respect a person you don’t trust?

These misunderstandings quickly lead to personal conflicts among family members, as well as employees.  

Taken for granted

The efforts and contributions of individual family members and employees are easily overlooked.

Too often, the hectic pace, burdensome workload and numerous stresses of the dairy farm prevent individuals from expressing their feelings and need for each other. Too often, individuals involved in a family farming operation (or even in a marriage) have the feeling of being taken for granted by others.

It is not that these words of appreciation are not meant, but rather that they are often never expressed. Even the simplest expressions of “I love you”, “I need you”, “I appreciate you” are often left unsaid.

Sadly, these words sometimes come too late and the other person is no longer there to hear them. I always remind my seminar audiences that you will never get the chance to hug a casket.

A son or daughter dairy farming with Dad often feels that no matter how hard I try or how many hours I work, I never hear a word of appreciation or praise for what I have done well. But if I ever mess up or make a mistake, I never hear the end of it. It is rather easy for anyone in this type of situation to become frustrated and discouraged to the point of no longer trying to do their best (and possibly even leaving the farm).

Stress in a farm marriage

Farm marriages also illustrate this pain from the lack of appreciation between spouses. A farm wife once shared with me “If my husband just told me that he loved me and cared about me as much as his farm, I would have stayed and found a way to have saved my marriage.” 

Another wife wrote that “the only thing that my husband and I share together is our mailing address, and now I am going to change that.”  It’s extremely easy to get so wrapped up in the working demands of a dairy farming operation that we forget or even ignore the needs and personal feelings of those that we love and appreciate the most in our life (family and employees).

Words matter

It takes a real effort by anyone to express personal feelings for others. But, everyone needs to know that someone else cares about them. Share a few simple words of appreciation. It can make a dramatic difference in any farm family workforce. 

These words will have a positive impact on the farm’s employees who now know that their efforts are recognized and appreciated. And, this will help build a commitment by these employees to the dairy farm and enhance their motivation to continue their efforts in a productive and dependable manner.

Initiate a more determined effort to better communicate and share feelings with each other. This can be a positive first step to build stronger relationships between family members and with farm employees. This is especially important for the well-being of each family member, as well as each employee, during times of farm stress and financial hardship.

Ron Hanson is a Neal E. Harlan professor of agribusiness at the University of Nebraska.