Experts say the key to staff retention goes way beyond paying higher salaries.
BY REBECCA LARSEN
Reprinted with permission from Golf Inc. magazine
Yes, it’s challenging to hire and retain staff nowadays. That’s what happens when the unemployment rate drops below 4%, as it did nationwide this spring.
“Pre-COVID there was a large group of service employees who were performing very well in their jobs,” said Jay Salem, chief operating officer for GSI Executive Search in Dallas. “But when the virus arrived, some probably left because of illness or declined to work due to fear about getting sick. Some stayed home because they were receiving stimulus checks.
“And unfortunately, now, though business has grown to a better level, many people haven’t come back to those jobs. Many food service areas of clubs are still having a hard time filling position.”
Even though GSI specializes in finding candidates for management positions at equity clubs, Salem understands the difficulties golf clubs are facing in hiring service employees.
One solution: Minimize your hiring needs by cutting down on employee attrition. Experts say there are some basic things that courses can do to minimize staff turnover.
Salem said it starts with keeping pace on salaries.
He said many servers and cooks have left for jobs in the greater restaurant world, where they can make more money. Salem suggests that wages for food service workers at golf clubs might have to rise to as much as $25 or $35 an hour to stay competitive with other restaurant industry options.
At some clubs, management asked members to pay slightly more per month in order to keep staff working.
After the pay issue is stable, clubs can focus on less tangible things, such as sharing the big picture with staff and offer more things that contribute to employee happiness.
“More and more people are looking for something else in a job,” Salem said. “People want to feel good about their jobs, and they want a better life-work experience than before.”
Cesar Martinez, vice president of recruiting, training and retention at Landscapes Unlimited, agrees and notes the importance of good employee training.
“All employees want to be valued,” he said. “They all want to succeed. With training we demonstrate that we care about them. Our behavior counts; their success is our success.”
Landscapes Unlimited, based in Nebraska, manages 51 courses and employs 1,400 people. The company has not experienced the same attrition as many other companies.
Martinez said that is because the company kept assuring employees that they were doing meaningful work.
“That’s important to their individual success,” he said. “Take employees who take care of golf carts, for example. We want them to know that they set the tone for first-time visitors to the course, and they can make an important impression. They need to know that cleaning those carts will set the tone for a great experience for visitors.”
This requires extensive training, which Martinez said “starts immediately after someone is hired.”
Research shows that 22% of employee turnover takes place in the first 45 days on the job, he said.
“We want to ensure that every employee knows what winning looks like and what we expect from them,” Martinez said. “In the restaurant, workers need to know how to set tables, or even how to manage a certain section of the restaurant. That might sound elementary, but it’s frustrating for workers if they don’t know what’s expected of them.”
Salem said that clubs need to have a clear, written outline explaining each position and the responsibilities associated with it.
“Sixty to 70% of the job descriptions I see that are used by clubs are poorly writ- ten,” he said.
Martinez added that clubs need to sell the job.
“You want to do an in-depth interview with all the details so that candidates are prepared for what you might want them to do,” he said. “And members in your club expect to have a staff with a lot of personality. So, the more training staff members get, the better they will fit the job.”
Richard Kopplin, a partner in the executive search firm of Kopplin, Keebler & Wallace, said he saw many high-level clubs take strong, innovative measures to hold onto staff during the worst of the pandemic.
“The top 20% of those clubs showed great creativity,” he said. “That was part of an effort to keep many of their employees working. They created ways to keep their base. They became more employee- centric.”
One idea worked well: Instead of closing club food services, food & beverage staff transitioned to home delivery, taking meals — and even groceries — to members.
There was flexible scheduling so employees could handle what they needed to do at home. There were new insurance incentives for workers.
Kopplin said many of these staff- oriented clubs now have waiting lists of people eager to work there.
“There is often a family feeling at private clubs that attracts workers, and our clubs tried to maintain that,” he said.
Other employers are seeing the value in working with staff to help them grow in their careers.
Martinez said that four years ago Landscapes Unlimited had an applicant for a construction job.
“He attended a hiring event and told us in an interview that he wanted a construction position, but he also wanted to become manager of a crew,” Martinez said. “I told him the sky’s the limit if he worked at it, and he smiled at that — probably because he’d heard all that before somewhere but maybe ended up disappointed.
“But while he was working for us, his manager talked to him about how he really needed to get some new skills, and he went ahead and took the necessary classes.”
Now, that employee is an assistant supervisor and is on pace to become a manager of his own construction crew.
“He showed his motivation at the beginning when he joined us, and we told him what steps he had to take,” Martinez said. “There was no silver bullet that could get him where he wanted to go, of course. It did take him three years of effort to get there.”