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How to protect your mental health in the turf industry

Features, News, Sport / 10th October 2019

by Emma Beggs, STRI agronomist

Turf stress comes in various forms, drought, disease, mowing etc; but there’s another stress within the turf industry that needs to be addressed. STRI consultant, Emma Beggs, investigates the pressure greenkeepers are under on World Mental Health Day.


Whilst I’m well qualified to talk about managing turf, discussing the management of your mental well-being is sadly not something that is commonly taught within the industry. However, from my work across the UK, I have first-hand experience of how stress issues can cripple greenkeeping staff, grounds people and the facilities they work on.


Stress in the workplace


There is a difference between stress and pressure. We all experience pressure on a daily basis and need it to motivate and enable us to perform at our very best. It’s when we experience too much pressure without the opportunity to recover that we start to experience stress.

Whilst out talking to turf industry professionals, it became clear that increasing numbers of turf managers and their staff are being put under unrelenting pressure. Not coping with this pressure can quite quickly become a problem, particularly if staff feel isolated and unable to communicate their concerns.

When pressure of work is impacting on quality of time away from work, time that should be spent happily with friends and families, then something needs to change.


The bosses

Whilst this is a great industry to work in, it’s unique in the way it’s set up.

Many turf managers work for members’ clubs, be this golf clubs or sports clubs. Answering to a committee of some kind usually means that the direct boss is somebody from outside the amenity turf industry and that position tends to change regularly, even annually at some golf clubs.

Whilst this person may be hugely enthusiastic about their role they often start from a point of knowing very little about turf management and the processes involved.


mowing golf course

An increasing number of turf managers and their staff are being put under unrelenting pressure.

Answering to a chairman of green or sports ground governor may work extremely well in most situations, but it is a relationship that needs careful handling on both sides to ensure the right balance.

Ideally the turf manager is allowed to maintain their facility or course without undue interference, and at the same time meet members’ demands being fed through the committee. When this relationship breaks down it can mean the workplace becomes a difficult environment for the employee.


Extra worries

The changing economics of the golf industry bring additional pressures. Budgets can be frozen or even reduced as the clubs look for financial security. The number of golfers who want to retain memberships falls and the age profiles steadily increase. There is also an increasing emphasis on producing a golf course for 12 months of the year.

Another problem can arise from our industry being full of passionate, dedicated turf managers who take their responsibilities to produce the best possible surfaces very seriously.


Greenkeeping working in isolation

Greenkeeper working in isolation


This dedication brings its own pressures – there are usually boundaries that restrict the rate of progress. These limitations can come from problems with machinery, low staff numbers, an increasingly busy fixture list and, probably the most influential of all, the weather.

A terrible winter has played havoc with the work programmes that were planned from late summer and all or a combination of these can and do impact on turf quality and restrict the rate of progress.


Social media

The greenkeeping industry has quickly adopted social media and this is generally seen as a very positive development. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram allow greenkeepers to see what is happening down the road or across the globe at other sporting venues.

Unfortunately, it has also opened up an easy pathway for visitors, members and the general public to give voice to negative comments and criticisms. Some course managers have walked away from social media and the option to engage members for exactly this reason.


Greenkeeper maintaining golf course


What’s next

It can be hard to finish at the end of a busy day or week and leave the problems and pressures of work behind. This applies to many jobs in the current working environment, but it does seem to be affecting the greenkeeping industry to a notable degree.

All employers, including golf clubs and sports clubs, have a legal responsibility under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 to ensure the health, safety and welfare at work for all of their employees. This includes minimising the risk of stress related illness or injury.

Sufferers of mental stress are more likely to get into conflict with colleagues, find it harder to juggle multiple tasks, find it difficult to concentrate, take longer to do tasks and are potentially less patient with customers and clients.

In addition, stress is a major cause of long-term absence. On a positive note it has been shown that people who feel good about themselves often work productively, interact well with colleagues and make a valuable contribution to the workplace.


Golf course maintenance

Golf course maintenance


Clearly from a moral standpoint, as well as from a business case, it is important that the issues around preventing and managing stress are discussed more openly. All of us who work within the turf industry should take time to reflect on whether the pressures we put on turf professionals are realistic.

We should also ensure that there is plenty of opportunity for employees to raise concerns in a safe environment. This in turn helps to ensure our sports turf facilities can be presented in optimum condition for that particular site.

There are a variety of useful online resources around the subject of stress in the workplace. As a starting point for additional information view the HSE online guide Working Together to Reduce Stress at Work, the ACAS publication Stress at Work and the Stress, Anxiety and Depression pages on the NHS website.


Ten tips to help reduce work-related stress

  • Talk to colleagues
  • Be active
  • Add variety to your work
  • Dedicated time to yourself
  • Accept things you can’t change
  • Eliminate interruptions
  • Find humour in situations
  • Take time-outs
  • Avoid unhealthy habits
  • Sleep well


Emma Beggs has 25 years’ experience working as an agronomist for STRI. You can follow Emma on Twitter @emma_beggs, email enquiries@strigroup.com or call +44 (0) 1274 565131.