A new study shows the need for better work-life balance in the sports industry to encourage a healthier work environment, prevent burnout and build a more diverse workforce.
Allison Smith, assistant professor of sports leadership and administration, co-authored the study “Work and Life in the Sports Industry – A Comparison of Work-Life Interface Experiences Among Sports Employees,” with Jeff Graham, associate professor of sports management at the University of Tennessee Knoxville for a special issue on work-life balance of the Journal of Athletic Training, the scientific journal of the National Trainers’ Association.
The study reviewed peer-reviewed journal articles between 2011 and 2020 that provided insight into the challenges faced by sports coaches, coaches, athletes and employees in the sports industry in general and the strategies to address these challenges in the future. According to Smith, the sports industry is one of the few industries that requires employees to be always available and to prioritize their work life over their personal life, resulting in a non-existent work-life balance.
“You’re expected to work nights and weekends with no ifs and ors,” Smith said. “A coach might receive a text from an athlete at midnight about an issue and they are expected to respond.
“We’ve known for the past two years of the pandemic that if someone doesn’t feel like their workplace gives them the option to work from home or telecommute or have time off, they’ll just leave,” she said. . “Turnover in athletics and professional sport is very high because organizations aren’t really making much headway with accommodations.”
Among the key findings of this study, Smith highlights the need for organizations to introduce industry-wide policy changes instead of putting ownership solely on the individual. To keep people in the workforce, organizations need to set clearer expectations around policies such as maternity and paternity leave and allowing family members to attend games, which organizations are doing more avant-garde.
“A lot of organizations still say, ‘no kids, no partners and no spouses at work.’ Your work and your life have to be separated. We’ve seen in our previous research that there’s a lot of tension with that,” she said. “When you’re a coach and you’re on guard duty and your kids miss you, it’s very hard to also be told that you can’t bring your kids to a game. Why not?”
While more restricted recommendations are given to individuals to help them balance their personal and professional lives, it will take a global policy shift to also ensure that the industry is fair for everyone, including women and men. marginalized people who are particularly affected in ways that others are not. t, said Smith.
“For women or racialized or marginalized people, there are so many other factors in their lives that they struggle with,” Smith said.
These factors impact the ability to work in an industry that has been predominantly run by white men. Smith, a former varsity athlete, worked in varsity athletics early in her career, which gave her insight into what’s happening in the industry and made her passionate about changing the system for all individuals.
“I can’t tell you how many women I’ve interviewed over the years who have said to me, ‘As soon as I start having a family, I’m just going to quit the industry,'” she said. declared. “And I know for marginalized people, not just women but also men, of different ethnic and racial backgrounds, they don’t see themselves at the top, so I think it can be really disheartening not to see those examples. and these models.”
As a professor at the College of Education and Human Development, Smith describes sport as part of health and says the issues that teams, players or sports organizations talk about are mirror issues around the world.
“One of the reasons I came to UMass Boston was the mission and the way we talk about trying to create an anti-racism institution that promotes health,” she said. “If I can create change in the sports industry, I feel like I’m also reflecting the mission and vision of our institution. We are lucky to be in such a diverse place with so many different people, be they staff, faculty or students.
Smith said there’s a disconnect in the sports industry between who does the work and who makes the decisions, demonstrating the need for more diverse leadership at the top. His research makes the case for sports industry organizations to begin to see the value of a diverse workforce.
“When we have people with multiple identities, backgrounds and histories, we can have a really collaborative and innovative approach to how we run an organization,” she said. “That’s what I really want to connect; how can we make the sports industry similar to our mission here at UMass Boston.