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We Don’t Get No Respect...


Joseph Fearn

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“I don’t get no respect.” Many people are familiar with this adage from comedian Rodney Dangerfield. This sentiment was the lead to his routine lamenting the difficulties he faced when no one gave him his due. Our grounds crews are often in the same boat. While people seemingly appreciate our work, we are consistently forced to subordinate our objectives and viewpoints for others.

I recently had a dispute with another employee where our work overlapped and was in conflict. I tried to explain my perspective on the conflict cause but could not break through. In my belief, my work was seen as subordinate to his and therefore my viewpoint was inconsequential. This is a regular occurrence and I imagine all you readers know how I feel. We too often simply seem to matter less.

We Are Experts
Grounds crews are the landscaping and grounds management experts on campus. We have theoretical training, apply best management practices, and results-based experience in our field. No other entity on campus involved in grounds management can claim the same. There are stakeholders that have associated expertise in a particular facet of our work, but none that combine capabilities like grounds does. Our prime mission is unique to our department. Since we are unique it stands to reason that we are the paramount voice that can fully reflect our situation. We should hold a significant, if not predominant voice when discussing grounds management issues. Yet we are rarely invited to the table and even more rarely given meaningful voice. We work at the convenience of others that do not understand the landscape.

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Every aspect of our work requires a blending of education, training, and experience that only the grounds crew possesses.

Grounds Is Important
No other entity in our organizations touches our communities/stakeholders the way the landscape does. Every person, in every capacity, that works/studies/visits the campus interacts with the campus landscape to some extent. Other units might be similar in scope, but I suggest none of them ignites a response the way grounds do. People interacting with the campus grounds are emotionally connected or activated by the landscape. There is a visceral relationship in addition to a functional one. The landscape connects not only with all a person’s senses, but also with their hearts and minds. From the first glimpse of campus to integration into study and work, to those that actually live on campus, the landscape serves a hugely significant role.

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Grounds crew performs a public-facing role that no other entity replicates, but also reaches inward to support the organization.

They Don’t Understand Our Work
Grounds work done right is a complex blend of technical understanding, foundational horticultural truths, and challenging physical exertion. Couple with this weather extremes, limited resources, and limited organizational prioritization, grounds management becomes even more challenging. In my opinion all these lead to, or stem from, a lack of true understanding of professional grounds management. Other trades seem to be respected, or at least viewed as uniquely capable of managing their field. The results are unquestioned, seen as objective and authoritative. Grounds is seen as lacking comparable scientific and evidence-based rigor. Anyone can cut grass or grow flowers. However, HVAC, plumbing, even facilities planning must be left to the experts. Grounds management is every bit as professional a field, performed by experts in the craft, deserving of input and resources in accordance with any other entity in the organization.

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The work we perform is primary to us, not auxiliary. While others may temporarily overlap with grounds work, they do not, cannot, perform the same role.

Give ‘Em What They Deserve 
Our work is outward facing. It is apparent to everyone that comes to campus. But the challenges are not seen or understood. This is the great paradox for grounds. Most people will see a campus that looks well-tended. This appearance is achieved through professional know-how, innovation, team spirit and a deep drive to serve the campus we love. My work matters a great deal to me. I do not treat it trivially and no one else should either. The fact some do not see it as important as theirs does not diminish its importance. So back to the original conflict. I completely understand that relocating a utility is necessary and should not be derailed by a flower bed. But the lack of consideration for impacting our work reflected in this situation is counterproductive to both our missions. Inevitably the consequences are born almost entirely by my side. So, next time, give the grounds crew a little respect. We will all benefit. 

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All grounds teams perform a singular job unmatched by any other entity in our organizations.

Thanks to all grounds crews everywhere for your professionalism, productivity & passion!

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