In July’s print edition of SportsField Management, several groundskeepers/field managers across different parts of the industry discussed how they beat the heat and the stress. It’s apparent that avoiding staff burnout during the industry’s busiest months is of the utmost importance.
For Travis Stephen, the story is no different.
“It’s probably one of the most important things to avoid,” says Stephen, sports field manager of the Oak Park, Illinois parks district. “If staff is burned out, then employee and team morale will be down.”
He certainly knows. He and his team manage 12 baseball/softball fields, 13 natural grass soccer fields and two multipurpose synthetic fields, while managing the local school district’s seven baseball and six soccer fields. Altogether, Oak Park clocked 20,493 hours of organized youth sports practices and games between the months of April and November. To properly put that into perspective, there are only a little over 5,800 hours total in those eight months.
Travis Stephen, sports field manager of the park district of Oak Park, Illinois, shared these photos of his staff at work this summer.
In a recent survey on SportsFieldManagementMagazine.com, 79 percent of respondents said “yes” when asked if their staff experiences burnout during busy times, but only 44 percent indicated that they had practices in place for preventing it.
They might want to take a few pointers from Stephen and Oak Park parks district, which acknowledges staff members’ hard work formally and informally. All managers carry business size “Kudo” cards and give them to employees witnessed doing a great job, which are entered in a drawing for a gift card. The July quarterly meeting is a barbeque, potluck lunch. Each summer, the whole staff participates in a timed pick-up truck obstacle course with the purpose of promoting safe work environment while having fun.
“Knowing my staff on a personal and professional level can help me understand how they learn and thrive,” Stephen notes. “Together, as a team, we communicate our needs so that no one ultimately gets placed into a stressful situation.
“Obviously, the best way is to never let it get to the point of being overworked, but it does happen on occasion…I strive to speak to each of my employees on a daily basis and address any concerns they may have.”
Stephen also notes that providing his team with proper training is an important way to reduce stress. The three full-time and four-to-six seasonal employees all receive training throughout the year. Highly skilled employees can help themselves and others more effectively and can be used in new capacities as necessary.
“We do a lot of training not only for safety but for overall job knowledge,” Stephen says. “Having a crew trained with many job skills has been crucial in overall crew morale and performance. A wide skill set from all employees allows staff to take needed vacation days.
“For long term effectiveness, [a] repetitive task for an employee is not very beneficial,” Stephen adds. “Switching things up keeps employees focused and the attention to detail is always at the forefront.”
While it can be difficult to maintain fields while keeping employees happy, for Stephen and the Oak Park parks district, it all pays off.
“Everyone has the same agenda of trying to improve the quality of our athletic fields,” Stephen says. “This focus and dedication has not only shown on the quality of our athletic fields, but in the overall morale of staff.”
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