A career in sports turf management is unique in many ways. But one way in which it’s no different from any other profession is that budget cuts and staff reductions can — and do — occur.

These unfortunate situations can often put head sports turf managers, crew leaders and supervisors in an uncomfortable situation. Not only must they continue to provide safe, playable and aesthetically-pleasing fields with less people, but morale and team chemistry can be adversely affected.

In our 2017 State of the Industry Survey, staff/personnel issues were at the top of the list of potential stressors for sports turf managers. Clearly, this is a continual problem within the industry and reduction of staff members plays a large role.

“I try not to let the little stresses bother me,” Ben Polimer, fields & grounds coordinator for the town of Weston, Massachusetts, told SFM earlier this year. “But I’ve had a lot of staffing issues the last 12 months — staff turnover, health leaves, etc. I was understaffed a good portion of last summer and relied on summer help (high school and college students). They did an excellent job!”

Read more: Polimer also talked to SFM in 2015 about doing more with less.

So, as a manger, crew leader or supervisor, what can you do when your staff is reduced?

In its report titled “Managing Workplace Reactions to Budget Cuts,” the University of California, Davis provides some proven ways for management to reduce the negative effects on staff of cutbacks, reorganizations and layoffs:

  • “Calm, realistic and positive attitude from management. Directors, managers and supervisors set the tone as to how the work unit will react to the stress and challenge of unwelcome change. Consider how when you are on an airplane flight and there is significant air turbulence, one looks to the pilot and the flight attendants for guidance and reassurance. For your staff, you are the pilot and flight attendant. Your behavior and attitude are critical elements in steering the group successfully through the transition.”
  • “Communication, communication, communication. When staff are in a state of anxiety, especially about something as basic as … job security, it is normal for them not to hear and take in everything you are telling them about what is going on.  You cannot communicate enough and in too many ways about what is happening during times of difficult change. Employees who have useful information will feel less out of control and more empowered. They will also be more able to attend to their daily job duties instead of worrying unnecessarily.”
  • “Visibility and support from management on a regular basis. Taking the time to show your presence among your staff and provide words of encouragement will do a lot to reassure your workers.”
  • “Acknowledgement to staff of difficult times and normal reactions.  There is a common misconception that if you acknowledge that times are difficult or stressful that it will make things worse. The opposite is true. The more we “normalize” employee reactions, and let employees know that we understand they are affected by budget cuts and uncertainty — the more they will feel understood and cared for – and be able to function well.”

“A positive attitude goes a long way,” Jeff Jennings, grounds and roads supervisor at Southwest Minnesota State University, told SFM in 2015. “Empower your staff to help find efficiencies. … They will likely surprise you with some great ideas.”

In the age of increased expectations and constantly shrinking budgets, sports turf managers now have an opportunity to be leaders, rather than followers. How? By showing their employers, front offices and staff member that, yes, more with less is doable by setting and achieving goals and designing a plan of action using effective and creative methods.

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