I love golf course maintenance workers. I mean, really, who is better than a great Greenkeeper? You take an A player Section Guy or Operator who really really knows their job and you have one amazing person who contributes to the game in the most positive ways and most golfers will never understand. Someone amazing enough to pipe a 300-yard long straight line on a mower, or to prep a green complex with absolute perfection in the near dark, is, to me, a total rock star to be appreciated in every way. Bring on the groupies.
Yet, look what our business has had to do to them. Cut back on their hours, take away overtime, ask them to work with lesser equipment, less help, less supervision, less of just about everything. Totally sad.
There's going to be a lot of talk about your employee's hours and compensation in the coming months. And with most golf course superintendents already doing all they can with less than ever, the conversations and decisions that are coming are the most critical to our business that I have seen.
The thing that is driving this: changes in Healthcare (read: Obamacare).
The current debate and decision making going on has to do specifically with what is considered a full time employee. And for service-oriented organizations, this may mean management decisions designed to skirt the coming laws by reducing employee hours. Its like dropping a bomb on an already burnt out landscape. Carnage.
Our business is seasonal, so there's more confusion. Service industry sources close to the new rule making say It's likely the final rules will include a one-year, look-back period of an employee's weekly hours to determine full-time status, so that the mandate for healthcare isn't triggered for seasonal workers. Nice. Lets ask our seasonal staff to work with less than what is thought to be best for most in America. Yup, that May through September work spot will bring the best of the best. Not.
But as the administration works to get the final rules on the new healthcare situation all set out this spring, there is much debate and positioning about how to handle, or not handle the new rules. Some companies are already saying they will pay the fines associated, rather than pay for expensive health care options. Companies in the service business are already paying for software that will minimize their exposure by determining exactly how many hours exactly how many staff can work. Even companies like Whole Foods and Starbucks that have offered health care to employees who work 30 hours or better are rethinking their policies. Simple economics, the plan that used to cost a per employee cost of $3,500 that will now cost $5,000 a head means something has to give. If the fine is only $2,000 for not doing the right thing at all, that's less yet. Bad design.
You can yap at me all you want for being a Left Coast Liberal (I'm not, actually, I'm a Libertarian, but that's another blog post), but I honestly feel that everyone is entitled to quality health care. I actually don't understand why everyone doesn't think this, which is why I don't like my Doctor or my gigantic insurance company or the company that makes the drugs they all want me to take. Recent travels in Southeast Asia were a clear window into how badly our system is broken as compared to what is going on in the world. People deserve to have access to affordable care and when they do, everyone wins.
Your business depends on labor. You can't argue that. It didn't take me long as a Super to figure out that the resources of my staff were the most important resource that I had to manage. When my staff was on the mark, so were playing conditions. Back in the day, staff sizes were big enough to get the job done and still let everyone take vacations, holidays, etc. And overtime was an acceptable carrot to encourage working longer hours during events or deal with the ever-present weekend preparations of a 7-day a week golf schedule.
Now, running with small staff means hardship in man-hour coverage and for the most part, paying time and a half or better is gone. Getting all the work done? Nope. Deferred maintenance is the name of the game. One super said to me, It doesn't matter if I can afford the fertilizer or not, I don't have the labor to put it out.
At this years GIS, an (obviously) un-named Super told me the story of generating invoices every time the club asked for something extra. The great example was giving the Men's Club Captain one of these invoices for the extra effort required for the Men's Invitational. The invoice had every extra hour (meaning: anything oriented to making our club the best ever) worked broken down. Bottom line, $5,560 bill (which really doesn't seem like that much if you look at what it really takes to hold a successful invitational). I guess the guys from the Men's Club had better recruit some local cheerleaders and have some weekend car washes. Its funny at first, but tragic as well.
Whats going to be the push back? At what point does the bend turn into a break? Might just be that the coming healthcare changes are that pressure, but to be sure, nobody wins without a plan. Or without a great greenkeeping staff.
Listen up, Golf. You can't ignore the backs that labor for the surface you play on.