Communication and connection – your unexpected farming essentials

This topic will be discussed as part of our online Bonfire Q&A on April 6th at 7:30pm, “Managing difficult workplace conversations”

The farm had been in Jim’s family for six generations by the time his father decided to call it a day and hand over the reigns.

And as he brought the staff together to explain the changes taking place, he was still puzzling over his father’s last comment the previous Friday.

“Jim, you’re a natural with cattle, but that’s farming. The farm, however – well that’s management. Make sure you don’t mix them up,” he had said.

As he ran the team through changes he would be making now he was the one signing the cheques, he couldn’t miss the unease on the faces of several property managers.

“Right, that’s about it. Any questions?” he asked, staring straight at two managers, standing side by side.

No-one spoke; eyes downcast and the group shuffled out the door and back to their stations – but Jim had missed these signs.

Two months later the first property manager resigned; a week later another. Both outstanding and long-term workers.

Jim was just devastated; he was also taking it personally; these two men had left him – and left him in the lurch.

His father let it go another week and then dropped in to see his son.

“What do you think happened?” he asked; getting an angry grunt in response.

“Do you remember what I said about farming and management?” his father persisted.

An angrier grunt.

“You need to talk to, talk with, but not talk at, your staff,” he said. “And you need to be aware of the dynamics between them. Their relationships. How they like to work.”

“How can they turn to you for help in an issue, if they feel you have no connection with them, no plan and no empathy.”

Jim didn’t enjoy hearing the way that your business handles (and works to prevent) conflict between employees, management or business partners can have a big impact on profits, productivity and morale.

That conflict is a major cause of staff turnover and costs your business money.

Queensland Government research shows more than 65 per cent of employee performance problems are the result of strained relationships, rather than a lack of skill or motivation.

It says good management practices can help you avoid unnecessary conflict and deal with inevitable conflict in an effective and professional way.

And developing a dispute resolution process can reduce staff turnover and save your business time, money and unnecessary damage.

“Jim, you have to manage the whole business, not just the cattle. As employers, it’s our role, now mostly your role, to be proactive by being aware of what is happening with the people around you,” his father emphasised.

“Ignoring it doesn’t make it go away, if there are ongoing conflict issues then we, you, are doing something wrong,” he added.

“It’s your responsibility in dealing with – and mostly heading off – conflict (and preventing it’s escalation).

“When I started jackarooing in the pastoral country your grandfather told me to give it a couple of years before thinking about coming home.

“The day I arrived four jackaroos couldn’t wait for my train so they could get out of there. I lasted four months. That business did not last much longer.

“That’s where we’ll end up, and as someone who has been stuck in seriously-negative workplaces, I can assure you we might be heading in the same direction – it’s all about communication, communication, communication and you need to set something out on paper now and get it to all staff…

“Hey, where are you going…?”

“I might be a bit full of myself dad, but I’m no fool. This isn’t time for an email, I’m going to call in on all the staff and personally invite them to a strategy session where everybody has a say on what makes a better workplace; then ‘we’ will all have the blueprint for me being a boofhead.”

Injuries on the farm can lead to stress, long-term health concerns and loss of income or even fatalities, so preventing them from happening is the best way of protecting your mental health. When it comes to running the family farm, investing in mental health initiatives is not only good for your family and workers, but it’s good for business too. The NCFH is supporting farmers just like you to manage and respond to work-related risks that impact on workplace mental health – these are factors in your work that can affect an employee’s mental health and include high job demands, low job control, low role clarity and more. Managing these factors, means decreasing the risk of work-related stress, which can prevent physical injury, mental injury or even both at the same time.
Find out more about being mentally safe on farm at

This blog is part of the Primary Producer Knowledge Network led by the National Centre for Farmer Health to promote mentally healthy workplaces. Campfire, part of The Primary Producer Knowledge Network, is funded by the Victorian State Governments WorkSafe WorkWell Mental Health Improvement Fund.

You can join the online bonfire session, “Managing Difficult Workplace Conversations” on April 6th at 7:30pm.

*Primary producers featuring in this blog are fictional, but based on research interviews with farmers, and developed with the assistance of the National Centre for Farmer Health