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John Reitman

By John Reitman

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Bridging the gap


A happy and productive crew does not just happen. It is the result of an effective manager.Connecting the gap between generations has been a challenge for the ages, but it's been especially tough on the golf business during an ever-changing economy.
Attracting new and younger players has proven to be, despite widespread efforts, nearly a futile effort. And expecting the next generation of employees to display the same work ethic their parents did, is, for many superintendents, an exercise in frustration.
Indeed, the complaint is a common one among seasoned superintendents: Younger employees lack the work ethic displayed by their older colleagues. Interns arrive ready to get on the fast track to becoming a head superintendent, yet don't want to work weekends and lack the experience required to rake a bunker.
And when it comes to assigning blame for that lack of work ethic, senior superintendents might not like where they have to look for an answer a mirror.
As a consultant to corporate America, Steve Drake says 20-somethings weren't born with a lack of get-up-and-go; it was taught to them by doting helicopter parents who teach that effort trumps results. 
"Now, here's this Gen Y, who from the time they were born got a trophy if they woke up. Seriously. You got a trophy for participating. You didn't have to win," said Drake, a speaker at last month's Syngenta Business Institute in Winston-Salem, N.C.
"Who trained this generation to expect that? (Baby) Boomers and older (Generation) Xers."
The younger generation of today's workers, called Generation Y or Millennials by Drake,  also learned a lack of loyalty for employers by watching their parents, despite years of dedicated service to a single employer, get laid off in their 50s thanks to sweeping cost-cutting moves. (Sound familiar?)
Regardless of how potential employers feel about any of this, Millennials are here to stay. This age group comprises more than 70 million people and is the country's fastest-growing demographic due to immigration, Drake says. And they're not likely to change how they view employers and what they expect in return.
"Baby Boomers live to work. To them, work is a place where you go every day," Drake said. "For Generation Y, they work to live. Things that are important to them are flex time, friends, family, community service and social media."
Superintendents on the other hand are simply worried about hiring, managing and retaining a good crew so playability on the course is not compromised and everyone gets to keep his or her job. But that won't always be enough.
"Now, the challenge is we have to deal with this, because (Millennials) want recognition and rewards," Drake said.
Like it or not, Drake says, managing a younger workforce eventually is going to require some change by those up the chain of command to be more accepting of the factors that are important to younger workers.
Although offering flextime to someone scheduled to be on a mower at 6 a.m. daily is a stretch, there are other, easier-to-implement ways to engage younger employees, Drake says. That list includes promoting feedback, empowering workers, embracing technology, offering educational and career-advancement opportunities, employee golf outings or take-your-child-to-work days and promoting stronger interpersonal communications.
Attracting and engaging the next generation of golfers has been even more difficult for an industry struggling under current economic conditions. Since 2006, rounds played have been relatively flat resulting in a net loss of more than 500 golf courses, according to the National Golf Foundation. Research by Pellucid Corp. shows that golf is increasingly a game carried disproportionately by those age 50 and above.
Like their peers who work at golf courses, members of Generation Y are attracted to golf's social aspects, Drake says. And golf facilities that hope to attract them will have to promote that interpersonal touch.
"What are you going to do to get them?" Drake asked. "They have a lot of other things to do (with their time). Keep in mind that according to all generational research, they like to do things as groups of friends. What does golf do to get groups of friends to play golf? Appealing to them to play golf on their own ain't gonna work."

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