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Work-life balance, or work-life boundaries?

Embracing boundaries allows all family members to grow at work, and at home.

Tim Schaefer, Founder

March 14, 2023

3 Min Read
Three farmers talking in a field at sunset
Getty Images

Have you ever heard that good fences make good neighbors? It’s true even within family farms.

How many hours of work should you expect from yourself each week? How much time does it take to complete all the work and still have time for some of the kids’ events? Even if you want to work 90 hours a week, do the next generation and your employees find this an enticing lifestyle?

As a farm owner, there is never true balance because, ultimately, what happens on your farm falls on one set of shoulders: Yours.

Instead of looking for the elusive balance between work and family, look for boundaries.

Are they just lazy?

It might be easy to assume that the next generation doesn’t want to work. This attitude was recently summed up by a highly successful dairy farmer in California, who told me, “My work is only one of many things that defines me as a person. It’s not the only thing.” More often we find all generations like to work, but each with different boundaries.

For example, a young dairy farmer recently expressed frustration when his father wants to talk business. Dad always wants him to stop by the office after work. Meanwhile, Junior’s supper is getting cold, and his family is waiting for him at home. Unfortunately, these late-night meetings are how they conduct most of their business.

Another example is always being “on call.” There is often the expectation that calls and texts must be answered immediately. You respect your employee's time off the clock, so why not respect each other’s time off the clock within the family circle?

Self-governing solutions

Self-governance in work and communication boundaries often solves these work-life balance challenges. Is it necessary that Junior is at the farm at the exact same hours as Dad, or can he come early and leave early? Can Junior work on his laptop remotely? Is there a way to give each employee, including family, a rotating set number of “recharge hours” off, even during busy times?

We have seen farms prescribe date nights for the owners a month in advance to reconnect with spouses and family. There are many ways to build choice and autonomy into work and work schedules. The key is having the work and time off agreements clear and fair.

Communication boundaries

Agree on boundaries for when people are expected to answer their phones and remain in contact. Agree there will be specific times that people will NOT be available. Experiment with when certain topics are discussed, and find a balance in communication tools. Some communication is best handled with a group text, other times email, a telephone call, or a scheduled face-to-face meeting.

Find and agree on a balance of both content and tools.

Creating and keeping boundaries in a family business is hard, but worthwhile. Embracing boundaries allows all family members to grow at work, and at home. With a few boundaries, both the business and family are stronger.“Good fences make good neighbors,” and that’s especially true with family.

Schaefer is an executive management coach and succession planner for farms and agribusinesses. Read his blog, Transitions and Strategies, at If you have a management or succession planning question, contact [email protected].

About the Author(s)

Tim Schaefer

Founder, Encore Wealth Advisors

Tim Schaefer guides large, successful farm operations, helping them get and keep a competitive edge. His tools are peer groups via the Encore Executive Farmer Network, transition planning, business growth planning, and executive coaching. His print column, Transitions & Strategies, appears regularly in Farm Futures and online at He is a Certified Family Business Advisor, Certified Business Coach and Certified Financial Planner. Raised on a successful family farm, his first business venture was selling sweet corn door to door with an Oliver 70.

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