Almost 80 percent of sports field managers say they don’t earn enough, according to a recent SFM Twitter poll. There will always be some disparity between facility types and general satisfaction with salaries, but 80 percent dissatisfaction is a giant number. Just 21 percent of respondents said their salary is fair.
By comparison, 57 percent of golf course superintendents say their pay is fair, according to an annual survey from sister publication Superintendent magazine. About 40 percent of golf course superintendents say they are unfairly compensated for the hours they work, and 3 percent said “I never thought I would make this much money.” Wonder what that feels like.
For sports field managers, this salary shortfall compounds our ability to find and retain good help. Depressed salaries start at the top of the profession and extend through organizations. Over the years, we’ve come to accept the pay scales for us and our team. But we have no choice but to change that.
Green industries are all clamoring for more qualified workers, and as a corollary, equipment solutions that save or replace labor. The need for workers is driving snow management companies to purchase specialty sidewalk machines that can replace an eight-man crew of shovelers with one equipment operator. Superintendents are deploying GPS-guided sprayers, mowers and earth movers to save time and man hours. In both instances, employers hold onto higher-paid, higher-skilled employees who have better job security and a more stable workforce.
Competition is greater than ever. Unemployment is at its lowest level since the 1970s, and a strong economy means that the service industries will continue to expand and steal labor away from other sectors. Landscape companies often outprice the market because their labor keeps the business going and allows them to take on new clients. Even McDonald’s pays $15 per hour in some markets.
There’s another challenge on the horizon: A new proposal in New York could require employers to pay a minimum of four hours of pay for canceled shifts within 72 hours of start time, for any time they report to work and are sent home for whatever reason, and for employees who call in to confirm shifts. These rules will hamper profitability for landscape companies and snow management companies that are weather dependent, and they will affect sports fields, too. But sports field managers could use their more-predictable working hours as an advantage if this employment rule becomes more widespread. More regimented scheduling will allow field managers to better control costs and will help to guarantee the hours of skilled workers that you might want to retain but risk losing to other green industry positions.
Here’s another advantage: Field work isn’t just a job, it’s a profession, and it’s up to you to spin it that way. We often blame competition, pay and the physical work as reasons why we can’t find and retain good employees. But some blame is on managers who fail to provide an environment of autonomy, continued learning and purpose. These are the most important ways to nurture intrinsic motivation, and self-motivation will beat any incentive program that you’ve created.
The benchmark General Social Survey has been running since 1972 and has gauged a number of societal metrics, including civil liberties, religion and worker priorities. Since 1972, across three generations that have seen the advent of the digital workforce, promotions are still the most desired work benefit, followed by income, meaningful work, job security and hours. People want to be part of the team and continue with structured learning that leads to mastery of tasks.
We can do a better job of identifying the workers we want to keep and create a framework of learning and advancement for them that engineers more stability for us as managers. This process might start with paying more, but it ends and thrives with dedicating time and effort to being better managers. When organizations recognize that, then the right people and the right pay will come.