Why do sports field managers work so much? It’s a question I have long pondered. During my 30-year career as a sports field manager for a professional sports team, I didn’t score high on my own work-life balance. Maybe you are no different. Why is it that so many SFMs are working over 300 days a year? Why do we brag about working 18-hour shifts? How did it become OK to work 20, 30, maybe 40 days in a row? What’s wrong with us? As we continue developing into a more recognized class of professionals, we need to begin looking at lifestyle and work environment issues for the modern SFM.
Most of the industry surveys that have been done tend to focus on salary/benefit issues or budget/staffing issues. These are important, but I would like to see the next logical step into work-life balance issues for the SFM, especially at professional sports facilities. We don’t have to wait for the results to know that over the last 25 years the SFM has been cornered into the neo-American middle management trap: Do more with less. The manager has to pick up the slack and never really catches up. Mix in the SFM cultural tradition of “whatever it takes,” historical mistakes not heeded, and lost perspective, and what you get is professional burnout. It’s a bullheaded notion in our profession, one we would be well served to shelf permanently.
I get it. Wall Street started inventing new casino games with our savings, and everyone has been tightening their belts for years. But if productivity is the goal, why do we ignore a mountain of research that shows significant reductions in productivity after workers reach 40 hours a week. It wasn’t a number plucked out of space. The great 20th-century industrialist Henry Ford was one of the first to see this. Obsessed with productivity, he instituted the five-day, 40-hour workweek after careful study for a reason.
From a purely business standpoint, it makes sense to hire more workers than overwork the ones you have. The greatest industrialist in our nation’s history understood this. The military, with life and death in the balance, not just the Q3 report, understands this. Six of the top 10 economies in the world understand this and have reasonable laws prohibiting more than 48 hours per week as a requirement. Would you want your airline pilot on his 80th hour that week flying you into a busy airport during a thunderstorm? Of course not. If competing in a global economy means having to design our jobs using a third-world model, I’ll take the old way.
I like to help the humans when I can, so I’m here to tell you that there is a solution: Higher pay for the assistant sports field manager. For far too long we’ve championed the plight of the SFM, but we’ve neglected the assistant SFM position. At many facilities the position is seen as an entry-level position, and if you manage a professional facility you know it’s hard to find and keep a good assistant. It takes two to three years at least to develop a good assistant SFM. There just aren’t that many training opportunities where mistakes can be tolerated. Once they get these field management skills, they find offers to run their own field. Many leave the job not disliking anything, except the pay, and now the SFM has to start all over.
They run big airports 24/7/365, but they don’t just hire one person with an underpaid assistant and using unskilled part-time labor to do the work. Due to safety concerns, they can’t grind people into the ground. But how many times have you operated equipment 12 hours or more into a shift, or had your staff – also on fumes – running it?
The term “off-season” is becoming an unknown term in the sports business. Even if you have one, that’s not the time to schedule breaks and manage the stress that comes from a satisfying but difficult job. As your team has grown from a nice little ball club into this year-round entertainment conglomerate, there’s a good chance your human resources department has too. They get it, and they’re beginning to gain traction within sports organizations. Burning out a key manager is not good business at any sports facility.
If you wait until all the work is done, you won’t get many days off. And while the basic nature of our business flow puts a lot of work on weekends, we don’t have to be there every day to be successful. If you feel like you do need to be there every day, hasn’t someone done a poor job of designing your job or failed to update it to reflect the blighted growth in your time requirements? As much as we truly love our jobs, it doesn’t mean you have to someday lie on your deathbed wishing you hadn’t worked so much.