What an equine Groom wants!
Last week we took a sneaky peek at an equine employers ‘wish list’, this week we thought we would do the same (only fair!) to give those employers who might need it, a gentle nudge towards a better understanding of what grooms are looking for when they make a job move.
It is surprising how often we come across bewildered employers wondering why they are still groom-less months down the line. Apart from the fact that the reality is that good grooms are in really short supply, often on further investigation into the job vacancy details the reasons can be somewhat closer to home.
Most employers these days understand that no matter how beautiful your yard is and lovely the horses are, if your accommodation is a shoe-boxed sized mice infested caravan with no central heating (dramatic emphasis!) you are unlikely to attract the kind of groom you are looking for, or indeed any groom, with or without 3 horses, 4 dogs and a magpie (yes, really) in tow!
Our team compilation of an equine grooms ‘wishlist’ is not designed to be an exhaustive list by any means, but it does pretty much cover the spectrum of what myself and my experienced team have heard over the years, I hope it helps.
A Sneaky Peek at an equine Grooms Wishlist…
by The Grooms List team
A positive work environment…
Any experienced groom knows that the make or break of a dream job is how well they are likely to get on with their boss and the team they are working with. At an interview, a potential new employee should be keen to chat to any existing staff you have to learn the most about how the day works, the horses and what you are like as an employer etc. Amongst other deal-making or deal-breaking points, they should want to see that this is a happy yard, with smiley people who enjoy working together and chat easily and openly with each other, with no tense undercurrent or atmosphere.
They will also want to spend time with you so, if possible, don’t delegate the interview process – please do try your level best to meet any potential new employee and ideally spend time with them before you offer them a job. We always advise job seekers not to accept a job without this opportunity, otherwise, in our experience, it rarely ends well. Of course, if you are a larger organisation this is less practical but as much meet and greet time, and time spent getting to know everyone, is never time badly spent.
Work : Life balance
‘Reasonable’ working hours, accommodating requests with regards to time off within statutory holiday entitlement, at least and enough staff for the number of horses on the yard can make a real difference to the appeal of a job.
These days, the obvious preference will always be for a 5 day week. This is especially the case if the job seeker has responsibilities outside of work or, understandably, just wants to take life a little easier. 5 day weeks and as regular as possible hours are hugely desirable and can really make a difference to the number of applicants you will receive for your vacancy. A 5.5 day week is a compromise for sure and not uncommon, but a real ‘job filling attribute’ is always the 5 day week!
Now don’t shoot the messenger but, it has to be said, many employers still insist on a 6 day week and some, not infrequently, expect their staff to work every weekend, and every Bank Holiday including Christmas and New Year ad infinitum! In the days of Downton Abbey, this was generally accepted but not so much these days. Job seekers will often ‘swerve’ such an all-consuming commitment in favour of a position which offers time away, to keep fresh and healthy, and to be free at least sometimes at the same time as friends and relatives. Now, we know in certain disciplines eg: hunting and some of the more full-on competitive yards, 6 day weeks are ‘de rigueur’ during the season. However, there is often flexibility and downtime out of season and that needs to be highlighted to applicants in your job vacabcy adverts, discussions and borne out when they speak to other employees on your yard.
Some employers still want all-year-round 6 day, full-on weeks, which will inevitably take a toll on employees and will make a lot of grooms reluctant to get involved, in favour of jobs offering some respite and flexibility. ‘All work and no play’ seems to result, all too often, in physically and mentally exhausted individuals who cannot always give their best in the medium and longer term. We see time and time again the consequences of this arrangement, which negatively affects the Groom, the employer and their family, the horses, visiting farriers, vets, liveries etc.
Some employers tell me they have no choice other than to offer a 6 day week as getting day off cover can be difficult. We have a good selection of Freelance Grooms only too happy to step in and help their fellow grooms under such circumstances! When you buy a subscription to The Grooms List don’t forget you can add up to 3 vacancies at once – why not advertise for both at the same time? Why not also take a look at our comprehensive list of Freelance Grooms that could bridge that critical gap for days off/holidays etc.
Cautionary note: Increasing numbers of grooms seem to come out of permanent employment in favour of working as a Freelance Groom citing one of the main reasons being to be able to dictate their days/hours. The writing might be on the wall if we don’t, as an industry, address this sooner rather than later.
A fair wage, a legal employment contract, pension and payroll.
It’s important for employers to be mindful of the difference between a legal wage and a FAIR wage, i.e. a wage that reflects the groom’s skill and experience. For example, an experienced groom going into a Head Groom’s role these days can command a wage of £400 per week including accommodation and bills. Anything less than that and you could find your job vacancy details are non-competitive for the top grooms, who rightly know their worth these days. That being said there are a lot of less experienced, not so good job seekers trying to earn the same! Clearly, you need to be mindful of that in your interviewing processes. Most employers these days are well aware of the obligation to pay a legal wage but if you need a quick refresher please click here.
A contract of employment is an agreement which governs the employment relationship between an employer and employee and is a must these days. Although there is no legal requirement to issue a written contract of employment, there is a legal requirement to issue a “written statement of particulars of employment” within the first two months of employment. This non-negotiable document provides a legal framework so all parties understand and agree to their obligations. It provides security and peace of mind to all involved, and who doesn’t want that? Do check out these useful links:
As an employer, it pays in all the obvious ways to be on top of your obligations as an employer in all regards, and the regulation of this is becoming tighter each year. All employees these days are buoyed by an employer who is on board with this and increasingly swerve and highlight those who are not. If you need to know more or want a refresher do check out requirements concerning pensions and on payroll processes.
Most Head Grooms would be looking for 1 or 2 bed private cottage/house/flat with some form of garden space. Many want their own space away from, but near to the yard. Shared accommodation can work but it depends on who you are trying to attract to your vacancy. Some younger grooms seem to prefer to share accommodation but experience tells us you can’t always generalise. Not many grooms these days seem to want to live in the employers home or with shared facilities, it can be a real ‘turn off’ when it comes to maximising applications for a job vacancy.
If you are looking for a groom with some proper paid experience under his/her belt it is inevitable that your ideal candidate is not going to be a school leaver or college graduate, and that your candidate is going to come with additions, be they in the form of a partner, pets and sometimes, (shock, horror!) even children 😉. It cannot be expected that grooms remain “lone rangers” travelling light all their lives. Therefore, if you are looking for an established, experienced groom, if it’s at all possible it’s a very good idea to at least consider providing some flexibility with accommodation. We know it can be easier said than done in many, many instances but it really does help to give you the pick of the best available grooms. Providing a groom is in a stable long-term relationship and their partner will be able to find full-time work in the area, childcare covered etc., allowing them to live in your accommodation can, in fact, be a positive thing. It most likely suggests they are in a mature, secure place in their life where they are likely to want to settle long term. Some employers unexpectedly end up employing the partner too, and it can be a very useful and happy arrangement!
At the end of the day, the reason most young people become grooms is because they are animal lovers. As the years go by it is inevitable they will begin to collect a few of their own, (yes we know some do go to extremes!) Many grooms like to make their new role their home and taking their fur-family with them is essential for security and/or companionship. Some job seekers travel a long way from friends and family, and we all need them to be happy; with ground rules and boundaries in place, it can work really well.
For many ambitious grooms, owning their own horse is also the only way they can fulfil their own competition aspirations and even have the opportunity to receive training on the job. Allowing an employee to keep their own pets and/or horse can really increase stickability in your job role and improve your relationship no end. We hear many employers reluctant to take a horse because they have experience of previous grooms neglecting the employer’s horses in favour of the groom’s own, or just skimping on the job generally for the same reason. However, we know lots of prospective grooms who absolutely do not do this and have a proven track record of getting that balance right. Again, ground rules need to be agreed up front so expectations are clear, and so this issue need not arise at all.
In our experience, with the right individual, it is a case of “if you give a little, you get a lot back in return”. The grooms who seem to do the least amount of clock watching are those with employers who do not turn a blind eye to their groom’s needs and are empathic enough to structure legal win:win employment arrangements that pay back in spades. If you do find issues arising despite clear communication and instruction then you have the wrong groom and it is probably time to have a rethink!
This is a very individual thing for each groom but it is essentially just the opportunity to do whichever part of the job they enjoy the most with some frequency. It can be a number of things, but most commonly this is riding, which could be a little exercise riding, schooling, lessons or often just hacking out, even if it is only a few times a week. It might also be Competition grooming, be it in the UK or abroad. This gives variation to the job and the chance to see what all the hard work at home is for, and a real sense of satisfaction when the horse and rider do well. The odd day out hunting for hunt grooms is also a major bonus and sure to keep team morale high.
When managing people and motivating them it is vital to find out what each individual values in terms of job perks up front and to provide just that; if you can’t provide it, well, you have to ask yourself if is this is a sustainable and positive long-term arrangement for everyone. If not, it may be that you need a rethink to ensure a sustainable, long-term, positive working relationship. Job satisfaction is everything for the majority of grooms as, let’s face it, if they were a groom for the sake of just having a job and the money there are much easier options available. Also, it’s no fun having a dissatisfied, disgruntled employee knocking around the place, for you or your horses, team etc.!
Opportunity to progress…
Linking to our last point, to motivate employees our job is to find out what each individual hopes to achieve, and provide just that. It isn’t a case of one-size-fits-all or indeed just offering what we feel they need to develop although, of course, that has to come into the equation.
For younger grooms, providing some opportunity to gain qualifications/move up the ranks within the team/receive riding tuition/space on the lorry to take their own horse to shows can really encourage them to stay with the team long term. If you are sure of their loyalty putting them through their HGV can benefit all parties. For all grooms, ensuring they stay on a competitive wage as the cost of living rises and/or considering yearly, seasonal and/or sales related bonuses can give your job role that added appeal.
Regular communication to ascertain what opportunities an individual will value, and checking in over time that everything is on the right lines avoids us making sweeping generalisations, which are dangerous because it allows us to think we’re doing the right things, when, in fact, we’re not. Look out for easy-to-spot signs of ‘disgruntlement’ for clues you might not be on the right lines!
While money and perks are all well and good, the day to day bread and butter that will entice grooms towards you and then keep them with you is the feeling of being a valued member of the team. Small things like remembering to say please and thank you, even when you are stressed, acknowledging birthdays and Christmas, or just a job well done if the yard is looking particularly smart, a horse is turned out immaculately or a horse a groom rides regularly is feeling extra well. Noticing and acknowledging hard work, even in just the smallest of ways, is always appreciated by all of us. That being said, again the one size fits all approach isn’t always appropriate! It has to be said, some people enjoy public praise, others cringe when made the centre of attention and might appreciate just a quiet word of thanks. When you are managing others your job is to find out what makes the greatest impact for each individual, and provide just that.
Communication is key – we all like to feel special once in a while. Do schedule in some quality time to give and receive feedback and to just, well – er – bond!
Before setting out on your search for a new groom, be clear in your mind what the most important points are for you. Know what you are willing to compromise on, by how much and at what point in proceedings. Be clear on what points are non-negotiable from the start but give that some really serious thought. We would always strongly recommend that potential employees go for, at minimum, a two day trial before anything is set in stone as this gives both parties a chance to see if the arrangement is likely to work out for them. For more information, see our article What is a job trial and why should I attend one?
Final word: There is much bad press out there about the working relationship between grooms and employers and we don’t buy into the “them and us” approach as if we are from two different planets. We hear the good and the bad and there is still a great deal to be positive about! Quite often, the whole recruitment process could be simpler and quicker if both parties just took a step back and looked at things from the other sides point of view, and The Grooms List by Caroline Carter Recruitment do a lot on a day to day basis to facilitate that. Have a look at our article 5 Tips for a Successful Employer:Agency Relationship to see how we can work together for a successful recruitment drive.
With the right groom:employer mix you will be working alongside your team, sometimes quite literally, towards shared common goals. The world we live in is constantly changing and so too is the equine industry. We should all do what we can to go with these changes and embrace them so we can all get what need to fully enjoy our lives with our horses in this modern age… if only job seekers would answer their phones to prospective employers, (that’s providing you are trying to call them outside of working hours of course!)😉