Congratulations, your first head superintendent job. All of those years as an assistant are finally paying off. You have supreme confidence in your agronomic skills, you can water turf with a magical sixth sense, knowing the optimum soil moisture required to grow the perfect turf. Additionally, you possess a solid background in golf course construction; you even have business experience in formulating budgets and cost controls. However, one of the trickiest parts of your job may be dealing with employees – deadbeat employees, specifically.
A deadbeat employee is a superintendent’s nightmare. You know the employee I am talking about. He doesn’t show up for work, or when he does he slides in the door at 5:13 a.m. for the 5 a.m. start time, calls in sick, milks the time-off policy and is always complaining that it’s too hot, too wet, too cold... constantly walking on the edge, but never falling off. These deadbeats walk the edge of the work policies, safety guidelines and established processes, too.
You might stomach the problem team member and consider that your deadbeat employee knows the course, can operate most equipment, knows how to do a decent set-up and might even have a good relationship with your golfers.
He does just enough to stay employed but doesn’t grow professionally nor contribute like your other employees. He sometimes reaches his goals but exhibits a general lack of enthusiasm. The hallmark of the deadbeat employee is that he is always walking on the edge between succeeding and failing.
Another attribute is the deadbeat employee’s ability to actively criticize the superintendent, the club and the club’s policies. And not through normal constructive or suggested routes, but in the employee lunchroom, out on the course and during after-work activities. Other problem employees are constantly unhappy with whatever policy the superintendent or club sets. Their unhappiness cascades all over the people around them as they complain, gossip and criticize. Whatever the form of behavior your deadbeat employee exhibits, it won’t go away without your intervention. Bad habits, like good habits, become ingrained in workplace behavior and often spread like a virus.
A deadbeat impacts your club and the rest of your crew negatively, constantly and insidiously. Smart employees shun the deadbeat, realizing the impact they have on their positive crew’s morale. But employees who feel a bit like the deadbeat does about change, the workplace in general or their jobs are quick to echo the deadbeat’s point of view. This further poisons your crew’s morale and productivity.
If you let the deadbeat employee get away with this behavior, you are encouraging and training him or her that the behavior is acceptable. The person’s coworkers, who are probably picking up the slack, become demoralized because they work hard and contribute and see that the deadbeat does not. Additionally, they lose respect for your authority, and possibly their faith in the club as a whole, because you, the superintendent, failed to deal with a problem that everyone else sees.
The deadbeat’s team members expect and depend on you to deal with the problem. They may make cutting remarks, shun the non-performer or talk among themselves, but they don’t feel enabled or equipped to deal with the poor performer. They just feel his impact on their work.
Your best performers can do their little bits to encourage the deadbeat employee to contribute. They can make expectations for their team, give coworker feedback and express unhappiness, but the deadbeat has no obligation to change or improve.
Often, the deadbeat thrives on negative remarks and makes a quite convincing case to other team members. This behavior is a cancer, often growing and infecting the rest of the team during the heat of the battle just when you need optimum performance for the entire crew, such as during an event or adverse weather conditions. The deadbeat’s behavior is ultimately the superintendent’s responsibility to address.
Your first step with a deadbeat employee is to figure out what went wrong.
Something did go wrong. This will give you insight into what caused the behavior that is troubling your workplace. Remember your first day at the course? Most employees start out enthusiastic and excited about their new job. Somewhere along the way they find their enthusiasm diminished. Or, they spoiled their own enthusiasm – it works both ways. Figuring out what happened is critical to help the deadbeat become a contributing member.
It’s a rare employee who wakes up in the morning and decides to have a miserable day. It’s a rare employee who wants to feel failure as he leaves the workplace. Yes, a rare employee, but they do exist. And I guarantee the employee believes it’s not his fault. Instead, you or another crew member is the problem, the equipment is to blame or it’s the workplace in general.
Once you’ve worked with the employee to discover the source of his unhappiness and low morale, you can assist them to do something about it. With a deadbeat employee, this is the tough step. First, he has to own the responsibility for his subsequent actions and reactions to workplace happenings that may have occurred years ago.
This is a tough step for you, too. You may decide his concerns and unhappiness are legitimate. If so, a sincere apology is in order, even if you had nothing to do with the occurrences that generated the problem. At the very least, an acknowledgement that you believe some of his low morale is legitimate may be in order. It also makes sense to ask what about the work system is causing the employee to fail.
You may also decide he brought his lousy attitude to your course maintenance operation and perhaps you did an inadequate job of screening out a potentially poorly-performing employee. Regardless of the details, the employee must own that his reaction to the circumstances belongs to him. He must own his chosen reaction. Indeed, our reactions to the changing circumstances around us may be the only factor that is always under our control in most situations.
These ideas should help you deal with your deadbeat employee. But, if you’ve done your best and the employee isn’t changing, you must become a surgeon and do a deadbeatectomy, removing this cancer from your valuable crew. Meaning; you can responsibly, ethically and legally help the employee move on to his next employment opportunity. GCI
SIDEBAR: Dealing with the deadbeat
Whatever you decide about why your deadbeat employee is a deadbeat employee, these are actions you can try.
• Help the deadbeat employee see what’s in it for him to succeed and improve. Both personal and professional gains result from improved performance and a commitment to success.
• Assure the employee that you have faith in their ability to succeed. Sometimes supportive words from the superintendent are the first they’ve received in some time.
• Help the employee set several short-term, achievable goals. These should be time-based and have clear outcomes about which you agree. Some of these goals can address employee “attitude” in behavioral terms. By this I mean that it is not possible for you and the employee to share a clear picture of “bad attitude.” But, you can share a picture about the behaviors the employee exhibits that make you think “bad attitude.” Then, monitor progress.
• Make sure the employee has at least one task in their day to do a job that they like, every day.