Don’t get caught up thinking that to have happier help you have to dig deeper into your pockets. Everyone loves money, but it’s not the only answer. Here are some tips on how to gladden your grooms without giving everyone a raise.
1. Time off
I once heard a woman tell her staff, “any groom whose heart is in the job doesn’t WANT time off!”
That’s crazy. And even if it is true for some people, that’s how you create sour, cranky, miserable grooms that are mean to their coworkers. Soon your staff is quitting and nobody wants to work for you.
Nothing replaces downtime. Not money, not compliments, not even pizza. Many busy barns end up paying out days off that they couldn’t give, but in the long term this practise takes a toll if it is done in excess.
Give grooms their days off! They earned them with blood, sweat and tears. They are not machines. They deserve vacations, too.
2. Value their lives
Ostensibly, having your crew drive home after the Sunday night Grand Prix is a practice that died with the grooms who lost their lives to it. In reality, some people in North America still do it to save costs on one more night at the hotel.
This is not okay! After a week or more of intensive showing, early mornings, long days, and no time off, it is risking their lives to ask them to drive more than a couple hours. Grooms have literally died this way.
Never, ever put them in a position like that.
3. Value their time
A happy groom is a groom who feels valued. Don’t make them work late because you were inefficient about getting your flats done. Don’t delay their whole day because you have the sudden urge to take a three hour lunch. Don’t keep them through dinner doing a task that could wait until tomorrow. Don’t create needless work for them. They are human beings. There are probably many things they would rather be doing than working late. Treat them as though that matters to you.
4. Value their input
Here is a hypothetical situation. You are deciding between two shows for next month. You don’t care which one you go to, but your grooms hate one of them because it has a bunch of needless night classes and smells like sewage.
Go to the other one!
On a smaller scale, ask them what horse they’d like you to flat next, what day off they’d like to have next week, or whether a horse needs to be clipped before the next show. Feeling like you have a voice makes you feel like you matter. And grooms who feel like they matter to their employers are more likely to stick around.
5. Um, Be Nice?
This might seem too obvious, but it’s not. Some of the abuse you hear hurled around at the warm-up ring is downright horrifying. Here is a very important news bulletin: just because you pay someone’s salary does not mean you get to treat them badly. It does not give you the right to berate, belittle, or verbally abuse them. If your job opening has zero applicants, your search for reasons should start with how you treat your team. If your grooms are perpetually grumpy and unhappy, same deal.
6. Food Food Food!
No matter how many times I say it, I cannot stress enough that grooms really like getting food. Also, most are fuelled by coffee. Also, the majority enjoy beer.
Pizza reduces us to giddy schoolchildren. Every once in a while, order your staff a pizza lunch. If it’s an early morning, grab a few extra coffees. If it’s been a rough week, surprise them with a case of beer. A little food goes a long way.
7. Give praise
We’re all just children at heart, right? Give our inner child a pat on the head. If you only have something to say when you are pointing out a mistake, your staff will start to feel like they never do anything right. Criticism should be balanced with compliments. It’s positive reinforcement. We do it with the horses, why not the humans? Tell us our horse’s coat looks shiny, our tails are tangle free, the tack is supple, the buckles are bright, the clip job has no lines, that our jump setting skills are unparalleled. Compliments make people feel good, and they’re free.
8. Help out
“You look busy. Why don’t I bridle this horse myself?”
“I cleaned my own tack.”
“I’m going to curry my own horse today because it’s nice bonding time.”
“No, you don’t have to clean my boots. Any self-respecting adult should be able to clean their own boots.”
“I just made a mess, and I’m going to clean it up myself.”
Have you ever said any of these things? Like food, a little help can go a long way. A swamped groom is usually grateful to have their tack cleaned.
9. Remember what their actual job is
Your groom signed on to take care of horses. Since they’re always around and you pay them to do your bidding, it is probably really easy to start asking them to do things that aren’t in their job description. However, if your groom is babysitting your children, painting your kitchen, walking your dog, or assembling your Ikea furniture, you should probably stop and think about whether that’s appropriate. Unless it was discussed when they were hired, you might be taking advantage of the boss/employee dynamic.
Sometimes your employees will have complaints. They will dislike the behaviour of a co-worker or disagree with a management decision or think they have good ideas that are being ignored.
Hear them out.
Even if nothing conclusive gets done about it, taking the time to hear them out makes them feel like you care about what they have to say. Nobody likes an unapproachable boss.
If you do all of these things regularly, I defy you to have unhappy grooms. It isn’t possible. If your crew is already happy, keep these tips in mind for optimal morale levels. They’ll thank you for it!
About the Author
When she’s not sharing hard-won #groomtruths, Brooke Nicholls works as a professional groom in Canada.