Mental Health Stories: Glenn Kirby

Glenn Kirby

Glenn Kirby is Syngenta's Technical Manager for Turf, Landscape & Ornamental Controls in the UK & Ireland and authors the Greencast Advisory Turf Management Blog

A recent survey of turf managers and golf industry professionals found that 60% reported increased mental health problems since the Covid-19 challenges began in March 2020. On top of that, 13% sat on the fence, leaving only a quarter of people surveyed convinced that their mental health was in the same place as when we entered this new Covid-19 world.

I speak with experience as I’ve been in the shoes of these guys and girls. For 25 years I was a “hands on” greenkeeper and in my career I was lucky enough to manage several courses. Now I see it from the other side of the fence, my current role means I spend a lot of my time communicating with course managers and I see and recognize the recurring challenges that working in this environment has on people.

When I talk about this to anyone in the outside world, they generally stare at me like I’m crazy – what could be better than working outside, in the sunshine with nothing other than nature to worry about?

The real pressures of the role are very different; incredibly early mornings, long hours, fighting poor weather and regular weekends all takes its toll on your ability to function when you return home to the family.

Working in this environment can be incredibly satisfying but the management challenges are real; the sponge-like position of a course manager stuck between numerous points of communication within a golf club and a greenkeeping team is often a very lonely place. Summoning the energy to motivate your team to maintain a high standard of work when they’ve just set their alarm for 4.30am for the 13th day in a row is a tough gig. When it’s still raining outside, and the forecast is showing more of the same, the leadership challenge doubles. When you bolt on the multiple lines of communication you have in a golf club, Greens Committee, Secretary, Pro, Management Committee or anyone else that feels it is their place to “make their view known” all makes it a pressure cooker compounded by the unpredictable nature of the weather and even more predictable nature of golfers.

Most of the people who find themselves in that role have shown great commitment to the club, a steady nature and a love for the course but have spent most of their working life sat on a mower and generally haven’t gained the experience of managing a team in that kind of environment, it’s a recipe for some real problems.

The same survey I referred to at the beginning of this blog was also conducted within our team here at Syngenta and, interestingly the percentage of people reporting worsening mental health during this pandemic was very similar to the feedback we had from turf managers and industry professionals.

Hardly surprising on reflection, whilst the security of a steady job puts me in an incredibly fortunate position, my mental health has certainly been stretched this year. There were times in my homelife I had to just stop people half way through their sentence and say – I simply don’t have the energy to listen to someone else let of steam about how difficult this is. I’d exhausted that long ago on my 10th zoom call that day. I look back at those times and realize how selfish of me that was but there have been moments when I simply had nothing left in the tank.

The apparent sanctuary of my “secure job” did nothing to relieve my pressure, in fact I found myself feeling guilty about the fact my job was seemingly safe. The internal pressures we place on ourselves rarely make sense – I increasingly find myself offering advice to people that I would seldom take myself?

The big difference that I noted from the survey results internally and externally was the response to one question:

How well supported are you at work in terms of wellbeing?

A seemingly innocuous question, but the difference was both worrying and significant; internally, 81% responded positively to this question, yet of the turf managers and industry professionals we surveyed only 54% responded positively. While both groups clearly have a long way to go to make all their teams feel secure and appreciated, knowing 46% of the greenkeeping fraternity feel they aren’t being supported at work is a worrying yet not surprising statistic.

Whether it’s your course manager or the new weekend team member who’s been employed to rake bunkers, surely we should be putting measures in place so that they know their wellbeing is not just taken seriously, but paramount?

Those numbers reflect my feelings from sitting both sides of the fence too. Whilst my new role is every bit as challenging as it used to be, the hours are similar, and pressures are probably greater. I now feel like my employer genuinely cares.

Someone in a better frame of mind is likely to be happier in their work, they are likely to produce a better quality of work and be motivated to give their employer more than an unmotivated member of the team would. So, ask yourselves these two questions:

What good reason would you possibly have to make your team think you don’t care?

What measures are you putting in place to make sure they know you care, value, and appreciate them?

At Syngenta I’m fortunate to have access to a mentoring scheme, Private health insurance, wellbeing training and a £75 a year wellbeing allowance that allows me to purchase something that makes me happy.

While I may not make the most of all on offer, it does breed a culture and feeling that I work in an environment where I’m wanted.

I’m not suggesting that these measures are right for your place of work, but ask yourself what sort of culture are you breeding in your club? What measures could you put in place to lift the wellbeing of your team?

My guess is most golf clubs haven’t given it a thought, or worse still a new committee has removed something that a previous one put in place. You’ll never please everyone, but 46%, nearly half of the people we surveyed would appreciate more acknowledgment and support, urgently.

Can you relate to Glenn's experiences? Share your views with us @syngentagolf or with Glenn directly @GlennKirby

For more from Glenn, visit the Greencast Advisory Turf Management Blog