From the hip The farm is one of the workplaces where bullying has been identified as a problem
Tom* continues to work on the family farm that was established by his father. He has a loving wife and five school-age children. Tom is getting long past the stage of waiting on Dad to fulfil his commitments and comes to the realization that he is simply a free hired hand and that his brothers and sisters have no intention of coming back to help. To further complicate things, Tom feels pressured and belittled. He is tired and having health issues.
Tom’s dad Henry* is disappointed that Tom takes time off work for his frequent health problems and to spend time with his family. He is a hard-working man who expects the same from his family and has little tolerance for slack. When Tom is there Henry never misses a chance to remind him of his incompetence, all the while increasing his expectations. Henry has a habit of failing to include Tom in important decisions or bank meetings. To make his position known, Henry lets the world know how lazy Tom is and how many mistakes he makes. Even if it is Henry who leaves the gate open, Mother and the coffee shop crew get to hear all about Tom’s error.
Tom is being bullied. A recent Alberta study on bullying identified the workplace, including the farm, as a key area of complaint. The top complaint was the inconsistency of policy or standards. In Tom’s situation, what Henry said and what he did were two different stories. The complete lack of protocols or a clear definition of expectations does not allow for clear communication. In this case Tom will likely never get it right because he cannot read Henry’s mind.
Henry likes to ignore Tom when he does not feel like owning up to an issue or when someone important is around. When Tom feels ignored he is one of nearly 50 per cent of workers who feel the same way. Henry may not know it but when he looks down at Tom and ignores his requests or does not include him in decision-making, this is a form of bullying. And when Henry does talk and accuse Tom of mistakes, it makes Tom feel small and frustrated although he is reluctant to go against his father, because Father can feign fragility on cue.
So Tom carries on, fixing behind Dad and covering up mistakes while living with the world thinking the mistakes are made by him. It is one thing to cover up for Henry but extremely stressful for Tom to be held responsible for Henry’s mistakes. To make things worse, Henry often accuses Tom of things he did not do and many days are missed because Tom is too exhausted to cover anymore.
Some days are diamonds and some days are stones between Tom and Henry but normally at least one-third of Tom’s day is under constant criticism. Tom is not alone — 36 per cent of the bullied workforce suffers such barrage from a bad mouth.
Not only is this form of criticism draining, it is also counterproductive. When Tom cannot get out from under it and when he finally has had enough and addresses the situation in a positive way, Henry blows a fuse. If yelling were a national sport, Henry wins gold as he strips Tom down from head to foot, belittling his performance and taking the opportunity to attack him and his family.
Last week Tom’s brother came home with a fancy consultant to look at a watering design created by Tom. It could have been a good day but Henry gave full credit to the brother and himself. Tom may have been momentarily speechless but he was far from dead. His delayed response was not pretty and Henry could not wait to gather some sympathy at the coffee shop within the hour. It not only broke Tom’s heart but he came to the realization that his dream of being on the family farm had simply vaporized.
And so like so many other men and women who are bullied, Tom simply quit, taking his belongings and his ever-patient family and moved to start a new life. This inspired Henry to ensure that Tom was never to get a cent and to create chapters of new stories for the “boys downtown.”
Bully behaviour is for real on the farm and a huge concern for workplace health. Unlike other careers, the farm tends to hold on to its people, even to the point of breaking, because they feel they have no place to go. But any other place may be a safer, healthier, stress-free place that gives you time to think and grow. If you are being bullied please seek help from a trusted source.
And what of Tom? Tom may have been bullied and emotionally bleeding but he was not down. Moving to a new community and starting again was hard, but he found himself and his family surrounded by loving and supportive people who did not have preconceived expectations. In removing himself from the former workplace he was free to navigate his way to success and ensure his new farm had a positive environment, a clear mandate and a primary focus on relationships. The processes he put in place ensured that any member of the team could do the job and do so joyfully. And while Tom’s health and wealth improved, Henry was back on the home place hiring and firing — and trying to find someone — as good as Tom.