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The Pandemic, Club Staffing, and What We Can Do

AFTER TWO YEARS on the pandemic roller coaster, the club industry is facing a paradox of people—specifically members and employees—that poses a threat to club culture.

On the member side, many clubs have been surprised to find themselves in a position of strength after two years of challenges and uncertainty. In fact, we’re seeing an increase in the number of clubs wrestling with the issue of how to accommodate an overload of members packing golf courses and overwhelming dining venues.

On the employee side of the equation, an extremely tight post-pandemic labor market has clubs struggling to attract and retain the staff necessary to serve all those enthusiastic members. Therein lies a very real threat to club culture: Without dedicated, engaged employees, it is unclear how clubs can expect to sustain and evolve their value proposition and deliver a consistently positive member experience.

Clubs are grounded in a sense of community with the interaction between members and employees at its center.

In research on member attachment and loyalty, club staff ranks in the top three factors contributing to member satisfaction and is also cited consistently as a significant factor in a member’s motivation to join a particular club. While high employee turnover in commercial restaurants or retail might go relatively unnoticed, in a private club setting, members expect to be welcomed by familiar faces who consistently deliver a high level of service. That sense of community and familiarity is what sets clubs apart from other hospitality experiences, but those standards are difficult if not impossible to maintain without sufficient staffing.

The role of human resources professionals (HRP) in the private club industry has come a long way since its beginnings as a tactical position focused primarily on compliance. Today’s club HRPs, many of whom came from outside the industry with advanced degrees and certifications, are on the frontlines of the current battle to maintain standards and preserve club culture, and they have their work cut out for them. In a Labor Survey Report published by Club Benchmarking in September, 95% of 760 responding clubs reported that attracting hourly labor has become more difficult over the last several years, but the pressure may be easing. In an earlier study (November 2021), 52% of responding clubs described hiring as “extremely difficult.” In the August 2022 survey, that number dropped to 27%.

At a recent gathering of 60 club HRPs in Atlanta, the focus was on addressing staffing challenges strategically and in a way that will put the club on a healthy path to the future. Based on discussions and education sessions over the course of that two-day event, the following would go a long way toward positioning your club’s HRP for success.

  • Recognition and inclusion as a key member of the club’s strategic leadership team.
  • The resources and support necessary to rethink standard operating procedures and drive innovative programs that attract and retain top talent.
  • Appropriate bench strength in the HR department to properly manage the club’s most important and valuable asset—the staff.

Does your HRP have what they need to make it so.