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May 2023

Leading in Labor: Emerging trends in leading a new workforce

‘Most successful clubs will be those investing in their human capital’ 

By Doug McPherson

Labor at courses has been turned on its head. What was once up is now down and vice versa. Golf Business decided to hit up Whitney Pennell with some questions about labor and workforce trends in the world of hospitality. Pennell is president of RCS Hospitality Group, a hospitality and tourism school and the official sponsor of NGCOA's Hospitality Center, She has worked in the hospitality industry for more than three decades. 

What do course owners need to understand most about emerging workforce trends?

W.P. – Leaders today need high emotional intelligence and empathy to manage different needs and recognize training gaps for different employees. We must meet them where they are, not ask younger employees to work the way we did when we were their age or try to force someone older to learn things that may not come as easily to them due to recent technological advances. And leaders need empathy – meaning the ability to put themselves in their employees’ shoes with neutral thoughts, not judging them and their work ethic or lack of skills or abilities. Ask how they feel and what they need.

Many hospitality leaders worked through COVID very short-staffed. They had to manage through changing regulations with golf course and outdoor space demand at an all-time high. When courses are short-staffed, duties often fall to top performers and leaders, which has given rise to burnout.

Also, wages have risen between 25% to 40% in some areas due to supply and demand in the workplace, and there’s also a lack of workers or desire to work the hours needed in the hospitality sector (open seven days a week for long hours, manual labor needs, etc.). To be an attractive employer today, you should use your course’s culture as a competitive edge and be creative in improving work-life relationships for managers.

What concessions are course owners making, such as flexible paid time off, more casual dress codes, etc.?
W.P. – We’re seeing more flexible schedules, hiring more employees than in years past to allow more time off, and relaxing the qualifications to hire. Clubs that had strict rules on piercings, tattoos, etc. have somewhat relaxed those criteria. Many have had to incorporate more opportunities to train their current staff to promote from within or deepen their bench of desirable employees.

We’ve also seen clubs offering signing bonuses, higher pay rates and increased vacation time to attract top talent for leadership positions.

What’s your best leadership advice to course owners for the next five years?

W.P. – Recognize the multigenerational workforce needs and expectations of technology and work-life relationships. Focus on your workplace culture to be a competitive advantage, which requires commitment and sometimes increased investment. Just as we work hard to understand our customers’ motivation and needs, we need to do the same for our employees. The most successful clubs will be those investing in their human capital and facilities.

Walk through your employee journey and make sure that everything from the job posting to the informational recruiting website, to the hiring process, onboarding, orientation and training are reflective of your culture and appealing in a competitive labor market.

Recognize that a person’s direct manager or supervisor is responsible for 70% of an employee’s engagement and invest in the manager's professional development to keep employees engaged.
Anything else about leadership and employee retention you care to share?

W.P. – Realize that it’s costly to experience employee turnover. It costs about 20% of a person’s first-year wage when there is turnover and upwards of 50% for management turnover. For a $15-an-hour employee working 30 hours a week for 40 weeks, it costs the club about $18,000 in hard costs such as recruiting, job posting, interviewing, training and overtime while working short-staffed, and opportunity costs such as team conflict, lost customers, poor reviews, etc. So, whether a course has an intentional training program or not, they’re paying for it in one way or another – either through mistakes leading to turnover cost and lost customers or training investment leading to improved customer satisfaction and employee/customer retention.

Note: Some of Pennell’s answers have been edited for brevity and clarity. 


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