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Golf pros and the Great Resignation
Even perceived "dream jobs" are struggling to keep employees
One of the hobbies I’ve picked back up during the pandemic after a long layoff has been watching live sports on TV, and this past weekend was no exception. I spent a few hours on Sunday watching the thrilling come from behind victory by Justin Thomas in a playoff at the PGA Championship, one of professional golf’s 4 “majors” for the year and the biggest event hosted by the Professional Golfers Association of America (PGA). The PGA of America is a member organization consisting of almost 29,000 golf professionals whose roles are to provide golf lessons to people of varying levels of ability and to promote the game of golf. Many of their members work at golf courses, driving ranges, or golf clubs and the workforce consists of talented golfers who want to translate their knowledge and abilities into a career outside of being a touring professional. (The PGA of America is separate from the PGA Tour, which runs the pre-eminent professional golf tour in North America.)
Watching the golf tournament, I was surprised that the announcers periodically mentioned throughout the telecast that the PGA of America had job openings and were encouraging viewers to consider applying for positions in the game of golf. There were also several paid commercials featuring current golf pros providing testimonials on why they love their jobs. As a former high school golfer who won the Spirit and Leadership award my senior year on a team that placed 2nd in the state, I think back fondly to the days where I was able to play on a regular basis. Life is busy now and it’s hard to find the time to get much time at the range or on the course outside of taking my kids to Top Golf, but the idea of working as a golf professional sounds to me like a dream job.
Changing career expectations in golf & elsewhere
In all the years I’ve gone to a course or watched golf on TV, I’ve never seen advertising for careers in the industry. I’ve always assumed that there were plenty of people who were passionate about golf and really good at the game to pursue these opportunities. This was likely true in the past, but as a recent article from Golf Digest makes abundantly clear, there is a “golf pro crisis” today. It turns out that many golf professionals are leaving the industry because they are burned out. It’s not just older pros that are looking to retire early, but young and mid-career professionals as well. Turns out, golf is not immune from the same pressures as other industries facing the Great Resignation.
The Golf Digest article cites several factors that are impacting the decision of many to leave the golf profession, including long hours (sometimes 80 hours a week or more), a long list of responsibilities including regularly checking e-mail and responding to club members or the general public, managing the staff and sales at the pro shop, overseeing maintenance of the facilities, and serving as a pubic ambassador for your employer, all while getting few vacation days and likely working most weekends. While a boost in pay can help, golf professionals are demanding a better quality of life as well, including the hire of additional staff to help with the myriad of responsibilities, better defined roles, more evenings and weekends free and more time to focus on the areas of the job that they enjoy, like giving lessons and occasionally actually getting to play a round of golf themselves. The article also mentions that younger golf professionals have been more outspoken about their mental health and demanding better working conditions, and that this in turn has empowered some older professionals to push for change as well.
Since 2018, the number of head golf professionals and assistant golf professionals have both dropped by roughly 10%, and this drop has coincided with a huge boom in the number of golf rounds played since the pandemic began as well as an increase in the amount of golf merchandise sold at retailers. This mix of a declining number of workers combined with an increase in popularity has put added stress and amount of hours worked on the remaining group of golf professionals. No wonder there has been more efforts put forth to promote the recruitment of talent at all levels in the golf industry.
Demographics and demands from workers
Certainly there are a lot of factors that have gone into the Great Resignation that has been a hot topic of conversation over the past year. Pew Research found that a majority of workers who quit a job in 2021 say low pay (63%), no opportunities for advancement (63%) and feeling disrespected at work (57%) were reasons why they quit. Other reasons include child care issues (48% among those with a child younger than 18 in the household), a lack of flexibility to choose when they put in their hours (45%), or not having good benefits such as health insurance and paid time off (43%).
A recent Harvard Business Review article cites 5 factors driving the trend:
Workers are retiring in greater numbers
Workers are not relocating as often
Workers are reconsidering their work-life balance
Workers are reshuffling between roles
Workers are reluctant to return to in-person jobs
Part of these changes are demographic in nature. As a Gen Xer who was born in 1974, my parents noticed early on during my schooling that my class was always one of the smallest at school - there was a demographic dip between the Baby Boomer generation and millennials.
So how are companies responding? The Golf Digest article states that some employers see the recruitment and retention of golf professionals at all levels as critical to their success; after all, they are in a service business and need professionals to teach customers how to play the game in order to grow revenue from greens fees, club memberships, and equipment sales. Other employers have been slower to adjust; they still see being a golf professional as a “dream job” and do not see a need to adjust their staffing levels, expand roles, or offer better work-life balance…yet.
The same is true for employers more broadly. A Fast Company article that came out this week highlights what they term a “workplace reckoning” where the social contract of work is fundamentally changing for the first time in decades. In response, firms are recognizing the limitations of a one-size-fits-all approach or simply offering more pay and better benefits. Culture change focused on holistic wellbeing, redefining wellness to focus as much on mental and financial health as physical fitness, tailoring rewards to be more customized to individual worker needs, and promoting engagement in worker satisfaction at the entire C-suite level - not just HR - are strategies that employers are now pursuing to attract and retain talent.
One final thought: companies need to rethink their employee onboarding strategies in a hybrid work world and how to engage newer workers with their corporate culture faster. I’ve had several recent hires from my past employers reach out to me over the last two years to ask me about my experience working at the firm, and I’ve been surprised how much they have gained from my takeaways on “how things work around here” as an alumni of these corporations. It’s as if I’ve given them missing puzzle pieces that provide more clarity on what the picture is supposed to look like. I’m always happy to help others, but I can’t help but feel that their supervisors, teammates, or other co-workers currently working at the firm should be providing this level of support and encouragement. This also likely explains what so many of my LinkedIn notices are connections announcing that they have new positions at new employers.
What is your “dream job”? Does reality match perception? Have you switched jobs or left the workforce recently? If you switched, what attracted you about working for your new firm? If you left, do you plan to re-enter the workforce in the near future? More broadly, what can organizations do to be more attractive as an employer of choice from your perspective?