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Working towards a bully-free farm culture

Author offers insight if your the target of bullying and what you can do about it

She came up to me quietly after my presentation, looking tired and sad. “Elaine I haven’t been off the farm in months, and I don’t know who is going to help us with seeding. I am 70 and I cannot take this anymore. My husband is very verbally abusive and won’t get help for his depression. What do I do?”

This woman is a target of a bully, according to the language of author Valerie Cade who wrote Bully Free at Work… what you can do to stop workplace bullying now!

Bullying on farms is happening when targets are experiencing repeated disrespectful behaviour. The tactics according to Cade are exclusion, unreasonable demands, unfairness, verbal abuse and “crazy making.” (page 211).

Can you relate to these farm scenarios?

A daughter-in-law wonders how to get her name on the land titles after 25 years of marriage and years of working hard to make her father-in-law’s farm succeed. Her husband is not willing to stand up for fairness and says nothing.

A farm mom is not getting any support to get treatment for her depressive husband and she feels trapped. The exclusion from community is killing her slowly.

A wise widow who lives frugally and wants to honour her husband’s wishes is not sure why her adult children are making unreasonable demands for their inheritance. She is feeling threatened and pushed into making financial decisions that may leave her short of future family living funds. She has no idea what her long-term health-care needs will be and financial security is important to her, especially as she ages alone.

A frustrated 40-year-old son cannot get his father and mother to sign business agreements that share the farm assets and equity with the next generation. He is tired of the promise, “just trust me,” and wonders if other farmers work like slaves and get very low wages for years.

The over-60 father has no intention of retiring, but knows that he likely needs to share the decision-making with his successors. He is not happy about the barrage of verbal abuse he meets daily when he asks questions and tries to make a plan for the daily operations.

My question is, “Why are you allowing the bad behaviour to continue?”

Valerie Cade outlines the experience of the workplace hosting bullies as one where “others say nothing, are not sure what to do or say. The bullying behaviour is tolerated.” I say, “You get the behaviour that you accept.”

The bully minimizes the way the target feels and over time the farm team begins to think, “This is just the way it is around here!” Bad behaviour is ignored and slowly the family (employees) become distant , silent, and non-creative, according to Cade.

Targets of bullying suffer emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Cade’s research finds that the “target eventually quits (80 per cent of the time). On farms this gets very expensive with divorce, and the loss of trained employees.

What to do? Bullies cannot “flourish or they cannot even survive in organizations committed to respect, open communication and teamwork,” says Cade.

She suggests:

  • Clarify your values and communicate them;
  • Use managers as role models;
  • Develop more open communication;
  • Provide a complaint process;
  • Train people about bullying;
  • Support interpersonal skills training and conflict resolution;
  • Punish bullies, don’t hire bullies;
  • Adopt an anti-bullying policy.

Cade’s book has some great tools, one of them being a self- assessment:

Are you being bullied? Does the person you’re having challenges with:

Ignore you? Not return your phone calls or emails?

Dismiss what you are saying or “put you down in the presence of others?”

Spread rumours, lies, and half-truths about you?

Routinely blame and criticize you?

In our book dealing with Farming’s In-Law Factor, we came up with a list of ways to address the nastiness you might be experiencing on your farm.

  1. Accept that there are various reasons that people are nasty, some of which we will never know or understand. You can accept the reality of the nastiness, but you do not have to accept bad bullying behaviour.
  2. Be curious not judgmental. Address the root cause of the nastiness (e.g. depression, trauma, health issues).
  3. Think of a positive trait that you can acknowledge them for.
  4. Name the behaviour as nasty or inappropriate. Some people don’t realize they are being donkeys.
  5. Pray or reflect on a new approach or perspective to engage the person.
  6. Do not accept guilt or shame.
  7. Create physical or emotional space from the nastiness.
  8. Set healthy boundaries.
  9. Make requests. For example, if you feel you are being excluded, make a request. “I would like to be included in the emails to be part of the farm meetings.”
  10. Write a heartfelt letter and deliver it. Or burn it.
  11. Give them an underserved act of grace. Cade suggests to respond with, “I understand. I see.”
  12. Choose not to be melodramatic about the nastiness or take it personally. Cade coaches folks to move to the “I am being bullied and I will now take steps to protect myself” stage. “Notice if you are feeling angry, frustrated or hurt. It is time to channel these feelings so they do not take a toll on your body, mind and well-being” (page 189).
  13. Resist the urge to criticize, as it can become a bad habit.
  14. Realize that some people act grumpy or mean (almost as performance art in some cases) in order to get attention or because they have come to believe that is who they are.

Spring on the farm is an exciting time of watching weather, waiting for fields to dry and warm up and “get ’er done” planting in a timely fashion. Buy a copy of Cade’s book and a copy of our book Farming’s In-Law Factor as gifts for Mother’s Day, and for new farm brides. Work towards a bully-free farm culture.

About the author


Elaine Froese is a Manitoba 150 Woman Trailblazer. She is passionate to guide farm families to find harmony through understanding. Her mission is for you to have rich relationships on your farm. Visit to learn more and book her for speaking engagements at



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