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January 2022

Keeping Employees Happy

How ‘morale check-ins’ can keep employees from checking out

By Doug McPherson

Some call it the big quit, others call it the great resignation – these are terms for the ongoing trend of employees voluntarily leaving their jobs from the spring of 2021 to the present.

And golf courses are witnessing the exodus, too – especially of frontline workers who are critical to day-to-day operations. What can you do to keep them? It may not be as difficult – or as expensive – as you might think.

A fall 2021 survey by GGA Partners, an international consulting firm for golf courses, found that club managers chose the following common tactics to keep workers at work and boost morale:

  • Bonuses/compensation (47%)

  • Awards/recognition (32%)

  • Expanded perks/benefits (24%)

  • Teambuilding (13%)

  • Surveys (12%)

No doubt, you’ve seen and likely used some or all of these ploys and perhaps observed varying degrees of success and failure with them. But one tactic that club managers picked the most in the survey was this one: routine conversational morale check-ins. Nearly 80 percent of managers said they tapped that strategy over the others.

What exactly is a routine conversational morale check-in? And more importantly, can these check-ins keep employees from checking out?

One expert, Shelley MacDougall, the director of leadership development at GGA Partners, says check-ins work because they deliver what employees truly want: to feel involved, listened to and valued for their good work. In short, employee morale is about feeling and being engaged.

“The three most important factors surrounding employee engagement are caring, connection and commitment,” MacDougall says. “Employees say it matters that their boss knows them by name and sincerely cares about them and shows it through their daily conversations and interactions. Connections can be made through team building but also through simple conversations about sports and other interests specific to the employee. And commitment from employees comes when they know that they matter and that their work matters.”

MacDougall says routine conversational morale check-ins can be as simple as a daily two-minute conversation that includes open-ended questions to encourage conversation.

She says check-ins shouldn’t be scripted, but offers these questions, which she says can be powerful:

  • How are you today? How is a specific family member? Relate this to something you know about the employee. Ask something specific.

  • What was your biggest win this week?

  • What is your favorite part of your job right now?

  • What would make your job even better?

  • Tell me about a time where you went out of your way to help a guest or enhance their experience?

  • What ideas do you have to improve anything here at work? Where do we keep doing the same thing and it doesn't seem to work well?

Experts say that the last bullet point about employees sharing ideas can prove that they’re truly engaged.

“When the culture is one of engagement, people will feel more comfortable to share ideas,” MacDougall says. “Conversely, if the culture is one of fear, intimidation or apathy, the likelihood of effectively sharing ideas is very minimal.”

MacDougall recommends holding meetings that are about encouraging ideas versus meetings that just move through typical agenda items. She also suggests that in one-on-one conversations, managers ask employees directly how they might go about solving a specific problem such as streamlining a process or creating better guest experiences.

MacDougall says she knows it’s easy for managers to get caught up in the daily management of running a course and perhaps not connect enough with employees.

“You can manage by email, but you can't lead people by email,” she says. “Underestimating the value of creating an engaged culture and team is key. Engagement and retention are responsibilities of every manager.”


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