It’s summer and you’re stressed. Even worse, it’s summer, and you and your staff are stressed.
What — as a manager — are you to do?
As a field manager, turf director, athletic director or crew supervisor, you have several ways to fight this malady that is commonly referred to as “burnout.” It occurs when you are worn down by the physical challenges of the job, the inherent day-to-day repetitiveness, the hot and humid weather that can be exhausting and draining (depending on locale), a lack of positive feedback or reinforcement, limited opportunity for a feeling of ownership and just plain, old “not enough hours in the day” syndrome.
Worker, or staff, burnout is not to be taken lightly, as an unhappy, unmotivated, burned out and disengaged staff likely means your fields and facilities are not receiving the best possible care.
“[Staff burnout] is probably the most difficult thing to avoid because everyone has a different point at which burnout happens,” says Brett Tanner, CSFM and athletic grounds superintendent at the University of Akron (Ohio). “Many factors play a part as well; employees have things going on outside of work, or become bored or uninterested with the sometimes ‘Groundhog Day’ feel of the daily routine.” (Editor’s note: Tanner is now the head groundskeeper for the Cincinnati Bengals.)
Ah, yes. “Groundhog Day.” That memorable comedy featuring Bill Murray, where his character is doomed to relive the same day over and over again until he gets it right. At one point in the film, Murray’s character, Phil, asks someone, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”
That’s exactly how workers can grow to feel if their jobs have no variety or they’re stuck in a draining, dreadful work atmosphere – neither of which is good in any way.
“We try and rotate job tasks as much as possible so employees are not doing the same thing all the time,” says Keith Gorczyca, superintendent of parks and planning for the Streamwood (Illinois) Park District. “By rotating job tasks they also are learning new skills.”
We conducted an online “staff burnout” survey to get some data on this subject. The results were as follows:
Does your staff experience burnout during busy times?
Yes: 79 percent. No: 21 percent
Do you have practices in place to avoid staff burnout?
Yes: 56 percent. No: 44 percent
Do you believe in keeping a fun work atmosphere to keep employee morale high?
Yes: 100 percent. No: 0 percent
Are you often concerned with overworking your staff?
Yes: 68 percent. No: 32 percent
Clearly, this is a legitimate worry and concern for field managers and supervisors – including TJ Brewer, CSFM, and head groundskeeper for the Burlington (Iowa) Bees, the Class A affiliate of Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Angels.
“We do our best to keep work fun,” Brewer says. “Our season and days are too long for guys to remain productive if they aren’t having fun. I try to instill a sense of ownership in each employee by allowing them to succeed and giving them full credit for their work. When people are proud of what they do, they usually try to perform at a high level. I give them my complete confidence by not standing over their shoulders. I hired them for a job; I am going to let them do it.”
Brewer operates by the adage “if someone is doing something wrong, show them how to do it right.” He believes this philosophy is conducive to a positive work environment that keeps his staff happy and productive. Also, understanding the individual personalities of each staff member helps Brewer be a better manager. And don’t forget having fun – the Bees grounds crew has plenty of it.
“The most important part, as a manager, is understanding each employee and how they react to different situations,” Brewer says. “And we also play different games and have different challenges for who has straighter lines, who has a better finish drag, who does something faster…. If someone comes up with it, and it doesn’t affect the outcome [of preparing the field properly], we do it to help keep the mood light.”
Keeping the mood light is essential in avoiding staff burnout. This a practice done regularly on the fields of the Streamwood Park District, according to Gorczyca, who fosters a fun work atmosphere in several different ways, including holding various staff outings throughout the year.
“We also will bring in lunch for staff or have the supervisors barbeque lunch during the summer months,” Gorczyca says.
He also believes in the concept of providing his staff with a feeling of ownership, which can go a long way toward keeping them engaged and excited to come to work each day.
“We share positive feedback we receive from commissioners, residents and sports affiliate groups,” Gorczyca says. “We also include staff feedback when purchasing new vehicles and equipment. For example, if we are looking to purchase a new piece of equipment, we will bring in demos from various vendors. Staff will work with the equipment, and we then ask staff what they think before making the final purchase.”
Along with this feeling of ownership, staff members and employees also like to know they can go to their supervisor or manager with issues or concerns they might have. At the University of Akron, Tanner calls it “maintaining an open line of communication.”
“The majority of the time I am available for my employees, whether at work or home; they know they can approach me or call and I will give them my full attention and address concerns,” he says. “Having this has given them the comfort to let me know if they feel uncomfortable or unconfident with tasks or situations. By developing that open and honest line of communication, I can address with them when, what, where and why they feel that way. Once the basis of concern is found I can then begin the process of helping them overcome their sense of unease, either through coaching or further instruction/re-enforcement of their skills.”
It’s imperative to identify what problems and stressors you face at your facility. According to the article titled “Action Research as a Burnout Intervention” from The Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, “Your best resource is your employees. Collaborate with them to find out exactly what is going on. Not only will they help to identify problems, they will also likely have great insight into the opportunities that exist for improvement and change.”
Couple collaboration with positive reinforcement, and you’ve got a pretty good way to handle an employee who is overworked and/or stressed. That’s exactly what Tanner aims to do with his staff.
“I thank them every day, even if they didn’t have a ‘good’ day,” he says. “I know how hard they’re working, and in subtle ways here and there I reinforce and give credit for their effort.”
“I think that anyone can enjoy a game day, but it’s the days of hard work and dedication to improving the quality of the fields while improving yourself as an employee that make it even better,” Tanner adds. “That’s what I reinforce. It’s priceless to watch people grow and to see them recognize how far they’ve come and to see them become inspired to do even more. To me, that is a perfect balance.”
PHOTOS COURTESY OF ISTOCK, BRETT TANNER, KEITH GORCZYCA.