Prevent Athletic Organization Turnover Through Mental Health Support

A new survey from LinkedIn reports that 85% percent of workers say they are considering switching jobs in 2024, denoting a 27% increase from last year. This is shocking to many organizations, but perhaps not to the athletics industry. Employees of the latter aren’t just thinking about quitting – they are quitting. For instance, recent research finds that in NCAA Division I athletic departments have an average turnover rate of 48%. Some D-I regions (i.e. Western Carolina) see a turnover rate as high as 72.5%. The worst turnover rate belongs to Division II athletic departments, which report an average of over 58% and an average growth rate of -10%.

What’s to blame for athletic industry exodus and lack of growth? The survey above points to arduous working conditions to be among the reasons, while Sports Business Journal provides further insight:

“Candidates graduating with sports management degrees and other business degrees who planned to work in sports are opting out to pursue other opportunities that are less structured, better compensated and have fewer expectations. Students have been told for years that the work week in the sports industry can often exceed 60-plus hours without overtime pay. Lower base salaries that often lead to monthly financial struggles and early exits from the sports industry are linked to the promise of commissions and bonuses to come.” 

Is the Sports Industry Facing a Hiring/Retention Crisis?

Some organizations may be prepared to let departmental staff go to make room for new talent, something that could be argued is already innate to an industry that trades players like baseball cards. However, research shows that it costs a business an average of six to nine months’ salary every time a salaried employee is replaced. Additional studies show that external hires cost 18 to 20% more than those developed and elevated from within. Append this study, which indicates that 30% of new staff quit within their first 90 days, to an industry already marred by high turnover and stakeholders quickly realize that there needs to be a renewed focus on retention.

While salary increases and reduced working hours may help with retention (as per SBJ) Kindbridge Behavioral Health suggests investment must also be via the addition (or increase) of mental health support services. Workplace wellness programs are already known to offer benefits in the form of increased rates of retention (and productivity). That being said, it’s important to note that athletics requires a more dedicated touch. A mental health support platform must consider the unique nature of athletic department staffing so as to tackle mental health challenges with appropriate forms of counseling and therapy. Providers must have specific experience and expertise in working with athletic industry staff, from athlete and coach to admin and corner office executive. Below is a breakdown of why your employees deserve and require industry-specific mental health support.

Why Investment in Dedicated Employee Mental Health Support is Required to Mitigate High Turnover Rates in the Athletic Industry

Athletic Department Experiences Burnout Too

Over the last few years since athletes have opened up about their mental health, America has seen elite competitors take a “time out” due to burnout. It’s reasonable to suggest that athletic organizations behind them have an easier time understanding this burnout given that they witness the blood, sweat, and tears being poured out on the court, track, and field through a given season.

Departmental staff however, are behind the scenes, and thus the burnout is less visible. Meanwhile, they are feeling similar forms of anxiety and stress in doing their job to support athletes. They (departmental staff) are after all tethered to their (athletes and teams) success or lack thereof. It’s not hard to understand that staff behind a championship team feels more secure than those who came last place in a given division in the same year. At least for those few months between seasons before the gauntlet is run all over again.

Ultimately, athletic organization employees experience burnout and many of the same signs and symptoms of the athletes, including the following:

  • Chronic fatigue
  • High resting heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Cognitive impairment (difficulty concentrating, poor memory recall, etc.)
  • Compromised immune system (and subsequent illnesses)
  • Emotional impairment such as loss of interest, moodiness, and irritability
  • Stress, anxiety and depression

All of the above can lead to turnover due to termination for poor job performance and resignation. To prevent staff burnout and treat existing signs and symptoms, interventions from a provider with expertise in mental health support for athletic organizations is required.

Other Mental and Behavioral Health Concerns Unique to Athletics

If burnout and its corresponding signs and symptoms weren’t enough, it’s time to recognize that the athletic industry is facing a new threat. This threat has come to light since the inception of legalized sports betting in 2018.

Research finds that instances of problem gambling (also known as gambling disorder) in athletes are significantly greater than with the general public. Part of the problem, is the incessant exposure to triggers. Elite athletes are constantly surrounded by in-stadium and broadcast promotions for sports betting and casino gaming. They are also fielding endorsement deals from gambling operators. The lure of gambling surrounds them every moment they are within the confines of their respective organization, and the same is true for athletic departmental staff. Organizations would be wise to initiate education programs regarding the risk of problem gambling, and provide easy access to treatment options for those who have already been compromised.

Another new challenge to certain staff members (as extensions of athletes) that is related to the proliferation of legal sports betting, is the threat of violence. On-premises (stadiums, etc.) and online harassment from angry gamblers who lost wagers “due to” player and team performance has become so commonplace that the FBI has gotten involved. In addition to players, athletic organization staff who are visible to the public such as referees, coaches, assistance coaches, and anyone with a team insignia on their corporate polo could be targeted. This threat requires more than security detail, as harassment takes a toll on the mental health of staff too.

Kindbridge is America’s mental health support provider for athletics. We work with the NCAA, the NFLPA’s PAFNASCAR, and a variety other leagues and organizations in addition to individual athletes, staff members, and their families. We can assist in creating a program that assesses mental and behavioral health risks unique to the industry, and to treat existing disorders. As a result, staff will benefit from more holistic health and wellness. Meanwhile, your organization can expect to see lower turnover, higher retention, and over time may experience enhanced growth rates too.

Athletic Organizations and Institutions

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