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Projecting Anti-Racism: Asking for Free Labor

Posted By Anaheed Saatchi, Thursday, July 16, 2020
Asking for Free Labor

Developing anti-racist businesses, organizations, philanthropic ventures and so on, requires considerable long-term investments in labor and education. The nature of working towards a future without racism is complex, nuanced, place-specific, and emergent (ever-evolving). Companies that have recently decided to pursue “becoming anti-racist” have much work to do.

 

The trending phenomena of Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) being solicited for free labor has spiked since the uprisings around the United States in defense of Black lives. Industry professionals in all sectors have been put on the defensive: where they do not know how to--or do not want to-- pursue an internal review of their operations and so they post a black square, virtue signaling solidarity without real change. They might also contribute to the flooded inboxes of BIPOC and JEDI experts without offering to hire them.

 

In the act of asking for “advice”, the result is often harmful. It is extractive and perpetuates the narrative that anti-racist work can be an afterthought and not the driving force behind our socioeconomic pursuits.

 

You are not the only gym, brand, publication, club, team or, well, anyone in any industry, really, to decide now is a good time to make some changes. You are not the only one to track down that person who seems to be doing this kind of work, either professionally or because they have invested in their community. In fact, you are one of countless others who email them, or worse, direct message them on Instagram, with a paragraph explaining who you are and how dedicated you are to making changes before asking them to chat. No mention of compensation, no acknowledgment of their work as work.

 

This looks like something a lot of BIPOC have seen before - the image of a white person or institution extracting information without really doing any labor or investing anything themselves. This becomes devastating. The practice of understanding these racial optics is an anti-racist practice. Are you perpetuating a pattern of harm? Can you learn to see the bigger picture?

 

These solicitations lead to burnout for BIPOC and while you may be thinking, “it’s just a conversation,” or, “well, the person I messaged seemed happy to help,” you need to consider your own impact.

 

It is essential to understand that these are not casual conversations for non-white people. There is an extreme lack of perspective from the industry when it comes to the harm that befalls BIPOC put in these positions of having “friendly conversations” with industry members in the early stages of unlearning their own racism. Know what you’re asking: this is trauma.

 

You wouldn’t expect an engineer to build you a bridge for free, so it is not appropriate to ask a BIPOC person for their guidance without compensation. And no, a punch pass to your gym doesn’t count as currency. If you don’t have the budget to pay someone, then tap into the deep pool of online resources to educate yourself further. What you’ll invest, instead, is your time until you’ve restructured in such a way that you are able to afford hiring a consultant for your business.

 

Read/Follow/Learn:

Books

Resource Guide

Resources for Climbers of Color: For Allies

 

Instagram Accounts

 

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It is great that so many brands, organizations, and individuals are committing to social justice work - provided they follow through. But as you do, remember that no one owes you emotional labor. No one owes it to you to educate you. This includes people who do advocacy work. • Asking people to give you the emotional labor of explaining their lives is not the same thing as "lifting up our voices." Asking people to share their trauma and provide solutions so that people don't harm them again is not giving someone a platform. . There is one phrase I find particularly demeaning: "I want to pick your brain". My brain is not here for you to pick apart and use whenever and however you want. My knowledge and experience is not a resource to be extracted - my body is not a resource to be extracted. • Here are some tips when asking for free labor (i.e., information), even from advocacy groups: 1) Google is your friend. Most organizations have a website where your questions have been answered. I promise lots has been written online. Have a general understanding before you ask for more info. 2) Introduce yourself. It sounds basic but you'd be surprised how infrequently it happens. Say hello. Introduce your name and a bit about who you are and why you have questions. It shows respect and that you aren't taking the time for granted. 3) Be specific. Asking general questions takes more time to sort out exactly what you're asking. Also see 1# 4) Its ok that you don't know. You don't have to apologize. Please stop apologizing. 5) Offer something back. Give a sincere thank you. Share their work, and credit them when you use the info they gave you. Best of all, pay them for their time and expertise, whatever you can afford. • What do you wish people would do when asking for emotional labor? • [ID: an image of mountains in a purple hue, text overlaid in all caps reads "Asking for emotional labor is not giving someone a platform"]

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I've been trying to think through the next step for this account and where I've landed is to post activities/reflections/guided lessons for practicing different conflict skills, as well as ideas for how to start small in engaging in healthy growth-based conflict routinely. If that interests you - stay tuned! Image text: We cannot be both anti-racist and fully conflict avoidant. Our learned behaviors are often in tension with anti-racist values, which is why our best intentions are often at odds with what we actually say and do in the moment. If my homegrown conflict strategy is to avoid or walk away from conflict, how can I challenge the most insidious forms of white supremacy—those that live within myself and people close to me? Once I identify that I have learned to avoid conflict at the expense of practicing anti-racist values, I become responsible for learning new skills and strategies. Confronting racism is necessary; therefore our anti-racism depends on the practice of conflict skills and the healing of traumas and insecurities that stand in the way of action. Conflict Skills: sitting with discomfort, directness, confidence, curiosity, listening, honesty, patience, speaking toward growth rather than shame, openness rather than defensiveness, self-reflection, etc.)

A post shared by Amber 🌿(she/they)💚 (@conflicttransformation) on

 

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And this is why I wasn't down with hwhite and non-Black folks posting their black squares on social media when: 1) you weren't vocal to begin with and now you want to participate in a national blackout where you get a free pass to continue saying/doing nothing? 2) radio silence and crickets from you all since the black Square. This is performative. 3) I see many of you going right back to "normal" by rock climbing outdoors, centering yourselves in this movement, and asking for free labor from Black and Indigenous people (like we all aren't being inundated right now with requests for advice and action from brands, companies and individuals. Do you think you're truly the only one?) 4) you all are already tired and taking breaks from activism after approximately 2 minutes, citing your mental health, while Black and Indigenous people who have been keeping this tempo for years continue to disproportionately do this work. Do you think our mental health isn't suffering? Do you think we haven't known loss, grief, trauma, racism, and on top of that we still do this work daily AND know how to not act a fool and go outside without masks and climb and travel in the middle of a pandemic? What is wrong with you all! 5) Some of you didn't even post a Black square. You're still climbing away uninvolved and unbothered. If you think anyone is impressed by you using your white privilege and disposable income and generational wealth to focus on climbing rocks in the middle of a Civil Rights uprising and global pandemic then you are sorely out of touch with reality. I believe in my community to do better and this isn't it. Everyone who posted a Black square but isn't following up with action AND SELF EDUCATION, this is your call in. I am not sugarcoating how I feel for your comfort. I know you all can do better and I hold you to higher standards. We need everyone on board doing this work, not just a select few who are the most impacted by inequality & systemic racism. BOOKS BY BLACK WOMEN TO AT LEAST SELF EDUCATE: ⬇️⬇️⬇️ Me & White Supremacy (Layla Saad) So You Want to Talk about Race (Iljeoma Oluo) The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander) Eloquent Rage (Brittney Cooper)

A post shared by Mélise Marie (@meliseymo) on

 

Prioritize this labor. Pay for this labor. Hire a facilitator, guide, or coach to help you along your journey. Just make sure you appreciate the skill and expertise involved in this work, as well as the toll it takes on the educators.

 

Anaheed Saatchi Head ShotAbout the Author

Anaheed Saatchi is a queer and non-binary writer and community organizer. They cover themes of social justice, diaspora, the outdoors industry and identity politics. In 2018, they co-founded the rock climbing initiative BelayALL, based on the unceded territories of the səl̓ilwətaɁɬ təməxʷ (Tsleil-Waututh), Skwxwú7mesh-ulh Temíx̱w (Squamish), and šxʷməθkʷəy̓əmaɁɬ təməxʷ (Musqueam) nations. Examples of their work can be found in Alpinist Magazine and online at Melanin Base Camp.

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  company culture  diversity  employee engagement  human resources  JEDI  leadership  staff training 

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Adjusting to the New Reality: How to Avoid and De-Escalate Customer Conflicts

Posted By Laura Allured, Thursday, May 28, 2020
Updated: Friday, May 29, 2020
Communicating the New Reality

This post is Part II of a series on communicating with customers about the new realities of running a gym in the age of coronavirus.

 

In Part I, we discussed setting up positive, proactive communication. Despite your best efforts, it’s still possible that you’ll have members and customers who are unhappy with the timing of your reopening and the policies you’ve laid out.

 

That’s understandable, say Jim Wetherbe and Ted Waldron, professors at Texas Tech University’s Rawls College of Business. After all, this situation is unprecedented, and as restrictions start to loosen, it’s natural that folks will have conflicting viewpoints—and empathy goes a long way toward avoiding conflicts before they happen.

 

Of course, as former FBI special agent and hostage negotiator Chip Massey points out, conflicts aren’t always avoidable.

 

We sat down with each of these experts to bring you their tips for avoiding and de-escalating conflicts with members in your communications and, as you re-open, in person.

 

Create Member Buy-in

Building policies based on members’ own input is crucial, says Wetherbe. He suggests tapping your gym’s “opinion leaders” (the “stars” of the gym, those climbers who show up and seem to know everyone) to lead an informal focus group on protocols to keep members safe.

 

“If people complain, you can make it clear that you didn’t come to these decisions unilaterally,” Wetherbe says, adding that feeling as though one is in control is a basic human need. Knowing that their own peers are on board is likely to reduce those feelings of resentment.

 

Be Present

“If you’re anticipating conflict, you need to be there,” Wetherbe says simply. Massey also points out that there’s potential for misunderstanding when front desk staff is relatively new to the workforce and is attempting to enforce policies with older, more experienced customers.

 

In other words, no matter how well educated your staff is on the policies, and no matter how effectively you’ve frontloaded communication with members, it’s crucial that you’re physically there, role modeling protocols for staff and members. That way, if an unhappy member wants face time with the person in charge, they can hear it directly from you. Not only is the opportunity to have humanizing discussions helpful in de-escalating existing conflicts, but it also reminds other members that your goal is to keep them safe.

 

Watch Your Tone and Body Language

As Waldron points out, rephrasing a statement as a question (a technique Wetherbe suggests in our last post) is only as effective as the body language of the person doing it. That’s extra tough when your face is hidden behind a mask; we rely on facial expressions like smiling to get a point across in a non-combative way.

 

Still, there are ways to tailor your body language to de-escalate a situation. Wetherbe recommends nodding your head and lifting your eyebrows, as well as opening your arms and exposing your palms.

 

It’s also possible to de-escalate conflict when members can’t see you, says Massey (the vast majority of hostage negotiations take place over the phone). Even as the other person on the line starts to escalate, keep your tone even and avoid meeting that level of aggression with your own voice.

 

Empathy Is Key

“Never, ever tell another person how to feel,” says Massey. Instead, he suggests, “listen to what they’re trying to say. Connect that with empathy, and you can move mountains.”

 

One technique Massey recommends is “emotional labeling.” When you’re in the midst of a negative interaction with a customer, that might mean saying something like, “It sounds like you’ve got a lot of frustrations today. I don’t want to be another source of frustration for you. How can I help?”

 

Even if you’re wrong in your labeling, he says—maybe a customer tells you they’re not frustrated, but nervous—it shows them that you’re paying attention, and that you care about them. That’s when folks start to decompress, Massey explains: “It gets them back to saying, ‘I’m a human, and another human is trying to interact with me.’”

 

Be Ready to Stick to Your Values

“The customer is not always right,” Wetherbe says. “Sure, most of them are. But you have to be willing to ‘fire’ a bad customer to keep good customers.” Waldron agrees, pointing out that this is especially true now, when your other members’ safety is on the line.

 

Empathy remains crucial here, says Massey; this might mean saying something like “I can understand why you don’t want to [wear a mask / make an appointment to climb / follow X policy]. But if we don’t enforce these policies to keep all our members safe, we may not be able to stay open.” If a member simply won’t cooperate with your policies after you’ve followed all the other steps above, Wetherbe and Waldron agree that it’s best to ask that they return when social distancing guidelines are no longer necessary—for the sake of all your customers’ health.

 

Emma Walker Head ShotAbout Emma Walker

Emma Walker is a freelance writer, editor, and an account manager with Golden, Colorado-based Bonfire Collective. Emma earned her M.S. in Outdoor and Environmental Education from Alaska Pacific University and has worked as an educator and guide at gyms, crags, and peaks around the American West.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  customer satisfaction  customer service  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  marketing  member communications  staff training 

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Better Together: Fundraising for Climbing Gym Staff

Posted By Better Together, Monday, April 27, 2020
Better Together Campaign

The Better Together Climbing campaign is a FREE fundraising opportunity intent on helping leaders in the climbing industry provide financial assistance to their staff members.

 

Simply stated, the campaign started by complete accident. I work at Movement Climbing + Fitness and I had recently finished my first ever attempt at fundraising. It was a GoFundMe page dedicated to assisting a dear friend and colleague of mine. I remember running around like a mad man trying to get as many people as possible to share the campaign link. I did not ask them to directly contribute - just sharing the idea to a broader community was all I could ask for.

 

It was then and still is a value I hold deeply – that many people, rather than a few, who come together to support one another in times of need as well as times of prosperity will always cultivate a stronger community. The goal of that campaign was to raise $4000.00 for my friend, who is also a great friend to many in our climbing community, at Movement. We managed exceed our goal in 3 days.

 

Following that conclusion of that campaign, almost immediately, I began to try and come up with ideas for a new campaign. My partner had recently bought me the Organic shirt where a slice of pie is punching a piece of cake. I love that shirt. But I wanted a shirt with characters getting past their differences and realizing that each one of them is unique, important, and that they were better together than fighting alone. So, I made a call to a friend who had stopped working at Movement to pursue their dream as an illustrator.

 

As our design began to really take shape, it came to me. This fundraiser may be able to help staff members of climbing gyms and other outdoor associations affiliated with climbing. Across social media I began to see so much confusion, frustration, sadness, and anger. But I also saw wonderful acts of grace, kindness, compassion, support, and community action. I truly wanted to help support that narrative. A narrative of empathy, understanding, support, and ultimately a message that binds our community together in a stronger and better way than it was before this challenging economic and health crisis began.

 

In many ways the “Better Together” message that TJ and I believe in was a part of the message all along. Way back to the battered and bruised pastries.

 

Which is why we hope that by offering this fundraising opportunity at no cost to climbing gyms and outdoor associations affiliated with climbing we can help each participating entity generate as much funding as possible for direct financial assistance to their staff while minimizing the financial risk to each and every business involved during these challenging times. We hope that the more you market this campaign/movement, the more money you can generate to assist your teams. You can sign up here to get a free digital marketing kit and to get your gym listed on the storefront. Whenever someone purchases a shirt and selects your gym during checkout you will get $10 for you to provide to your staff.

 

And most importantly we hope you believe in our message too. That we are a stronger community, a more inclusive community, a more resilient community – ultimately a community that is and will always be a community that is Better Together.

 

Sincerely,
TJ Norris & Shane Way

 

ADD YOUR GYM

 

Tags:  climbing culture  community development  coronavirus  COVID-19  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  marketing  staff retention 

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Follow up on remaining Hygiene Brainstorm questions

Posted By Garnet Moore, Monday, April 27, 2020
Lonely Climbing Wall

On April 21, the CWA held a Hygiene Brainstorm community call for members to share their questions, ideas, and concerns about all things hygiene related. This is one of the largest areas of concerns for gyms at the moment, and the CWA is working to provide solid guidance as we begin to look towards reopening.

 

As we conduct research and work with our partners, calls like this are a great way to hear your individual concerns and give you updates on what we know at this moment. If you are not already participating in our calls please register now to join us.

 

This was one of our most active calls and there were a number of questions that we didn’t get to cover live. Read on for answers to those questions and some great insights from some of the participants on this call.

 

1. Someone mentioned not filling water bottles at our facility. Why?

 

As with any high-traffic area like door knobs, computer keyboards, etc., drinking fountain actuators should be cleaned regularly. However, you should not be concerned about providing water in general. SARS-COV-2 has not been detected in drinking water at this time.

 

2. Wouldn't low route density force more hands/feet on the same holds? There's almost a case to be made for more routes to spread out contact...

 

Climber’s personal hygiene will be as important to your reopening strategy as your cleaning procedures. While there is no practical guaranteed way to sanitize holds in-between climbs or even overnight, the gathering of climbers in common spaces is something that can be limited. Reducing route density or access could help limit people’s natural inclinations to congregate in confined areas.

 

3. Are all gyms eliminating shared lead ropes? Seems like it will be impossible to keep them clean and members will have to bring their own rope.

 

As we all know there are a lot of risks in climbing, and in operating a climbing gym. Balancing which risk is greater than another is something that we constantly do. If you have chosen to provide lead ropes rather than let customers bring their own, make sure that any changes to this policy consider all areas of risk. You may even need to change your waiver, gym rules, or any published information to cover any potential liability.

 

It is not impossible to safely provide lead ropes to your customers, but it may not be something you wish to do. You can clean ropes with warm water and soap and then let them air dry – this is sufficient to sanitize them as long as your soaking or cleaning time follows the directions of your chosen cleaning product. You can add a policy requesting that climbers do not bite the rope to get more slack - in most gym settings, bolts are close enough that careful routesetting could eliminate the need for more than an arm length of slack. And, you can quarantine your ropes for a period of time prior to redistributing them to your customers. Seven to ten days should be sufficient, but the science is still in development for determining how long SARS-COV-2 can stay active on these types of materials.

 

4. For gyms with fixed GriGris on ropes as a high contact usage, what cleaners and protocols would work without compromising the rope integrity?

 

Check with the manufacturers of your ropes on chemical compatibility, but in general the safest cleaning method will be soap and warm water. In general bleach should not be used on nylon products and there is some evidence that alcohol will not significantly weaken some common rope materials. However, the frequency of cleaning has not been thoroughly tested and the safest cleaning method would be soap followed by rinsing with clean water.

 

5. Is there any kit to test if surfaces have COVID-19 presence (active/inactive) on them? If yes, we could run test on hold (starting holds) and see if the gym has been contaminated.

 

Currently there are no publicly available tests like this, and it is unlikely that there will be. The only method of testing for an active virus is to attempt to grow the virus in a cell-culture. This is a great time to highlight a comment made on the call that some studies and public news reports discuss the presence of viral RNA, which is not necessarily the same as an active virus. When digesting information about COVID-19 make sure that you understand the information being presented in full before making any policy or decisions.

 

6. Is anyone considering requiring temperature to be taken prior to entering the facility?

 

This is an interesting question that may be guided by local regulations more than individual gym choice. While some gyms may have to, or choose to, do this it is unknown at this time whether the possible asymptomatic spread could be stopped with this measure. Encouraging your customers to be courteous to others and stay home if they are sick may be an effective way to place this responsibility on them rather than your staff.

 

If you do need to take temperatures prior to entry make sure that you do so in a respectful and private manner and follow other basic health screening guidelines as well to protect your staff and your customers.

 

7. We are planning on spraying down our bouldering gym between sessions with a disinfectant. What are your thoughts on that?

 

Make sure that any chemicals used in a gym, especially in such a broad application, are compatible with all materials present. Find out what the active ingredients of your disinfectant are and analyze what sorts of safety equipment, paints, flooring, and other materials are present in your facility. Keep in mind that repeated exposure can have different effects than spot testing might reveal.

 

8. What about high pressure steam cleaning? does it disinfect? can we use it on ropes and harnesses?

 

There is not definitive evidence on SARS-COV-2 stability yet, but there is some evidence that higher temperatures will affect viability. However, steam cleaning is not a quick or inexpensive process and soap and warm water may be equally effective, faster, and cheaper. When it comes to ropes and harnesses there are temperature guidelines that you need to pay attention to, in general only warm water should be used on these materials – check with your gear manufacturer for specific temperature guidelines. Even common flooring materials can suffer from overly frequent steam cleaning.

 

9. Are gyms going to continue top rope testing / lead testing - what kind of staff to member contact will be stopped? Even some members still need to be tested.

 

Part of your facility’s hygiene will be the ways in which you protect your staff. You may decide to, or be required to, put up acrylic shields at your front desk, provide PPE to your staff, and to evaluate your staff's duties and create additional protocols based on their exact tasks. When it comes to the proximity required during belay tests you could require additional levels of PPE for your staff and customers. You could also create designated areas with preset testing rigs that allow for additional distance between employees and staff.

 

10. Is the CWA going to make cool posters for any of these topics?

 

Yes! We will be rolling out posters aimed at your customers and your staff. We want to help you communicate the extra measures you are taking to keep your facility as low risk as possible and we want to remind everyone in your gym about their personal responsibility in keeping themselves and others from getting sick.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  human resources  hygiene  operations  risk management  sanitization  staff training 

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My Gym Is Closed, Now What?

Posted By Garnet Moore, Friday, March 20, 2020
Closed Now What

Whether you closed your gym voluntarily, or you are in an area where your gym was forced to close, you are dealing with some challenging questions at the moment. We want to remind you that you do have options and that the CWA is here to help in any way possible.

 

If you have not done so already, reach out to your insurance provider, your landlord, and any lenders to see what deferments are available. All of these providers know that this is not your fault and that indoor climbing, in general, is a viable business model. They will prefer to help you rather than see you go out of business. In some cases, they may be eligible in the future for aid in relation to any assistance they provide, and as the situation develops rapidly, they may even have restrictions on when and how they collect payments.

 

Many banks are offering 90-day deferments for loans. You may even be able to accumulate your principal and interest payments for the next 6 months and have them added to your final loan payment. The best course of action is to start the conversation as soon as possible. Similarly, your landlord may be willing, or mandated to, defer your rent payments and to wait to collect any rent owed until after the pandemic is over.

 

Likewise, insurance policies could be frozen, claims could be filed, and there may be some potential to renegotiate liability premiums to account for changes in your forecasted income. The CWA’s partner, Monument Sports Group, is working to negotiate with the insurance carriers on behalf of the entire industry. Mid-term policy adjustments, payment deferments, and extending policy terms are some possibilities to ease some of the pressure you are feeling. Monument has also contacted carriers outside of the CWA program to encourage that they explore similar options.

 

Possibly the most difficult decisions you will be making are around your employees. Assistance is coming rapidly and you should pay attention to your local department of labor for any changes they have made which could allow you to lay off or reduce the hours of employees knowing that they are eligible for unemployment benefits to make up for the lost wages.

 

On March 18th the Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed and its provisions will help support those efforts. This act also will affect what leave you have to provide your employees and how you must pay them during extended leave. For a more thorough review, read our analysis of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.

 

An often-overlooked area of savings is the benefits that you offer your employees. You can explore the option to suspend or cancel any non-essential benefits such as dental or vision insurance and retirement benefits. Discuss these options with your lawyer to make sure that you are not violating any employment contracts.

 

While the full range of assistance programs are being determined, the most immediate program you may have access to is the SBA Disaster Loan Program. If you qualify, you are eligible for a loan up to $2 million at an interest rate of 3.75% with a term of 30 years. To apply go directly to their website and begin the application.

 

The CWA will be here for you throughout this crisis and after. The long-term future of the climbing industry still looks very bright and it is vital to remember that your customers can’t wait to get back into the gym.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  financing  human resources  leadership  management  operations  risk management 

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The Impact of H.R. 6201 “Families First Coronavirus Response Act” on Indoor Climbing Gyms

Posted By Garnet Moore, Friday, March 20, 2020
Families First Coronavirus Response Act

On March 18th Congress passed the Coronavirus Response Act. In this bill there is assistance for you and your employees. Here’s a brief overview of some of the key laws that you will need to pay attention to.

 

Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act

  • If you have fewer than 500 employees, you must now provide 2 weeks of paid sick leave.
    • If your employee has been advised to self-quarantine, is experiencing symptoms, or is subject to an isolation order, you must pay sick leave at the regular rate.
    • If they are caring for someone who has been advised to self-quarantine, is experiencing symptoms, or is subject to an isolation order, or if they are caring for a child whose school or care provider has been closed, you must pay sick leave at two-thirds the regular rate.
  • Full time workers are eligible for up to 80 hours of sick leave and part-time workers are eligible for sick leave based on their normal work hours over a two-week period.
  • If you have less than 50 employees, the Department of Labor may exempt businesses from this requirement if it threatens the viability of the business.
  • Employees must have been employed for 30 days to be eligible for this benefit.
  • If you have an existing paid leave policy, you must also provide this emergency paid sick leave.
  • You could be subject to civil penalties if you violate this law.

Tax Credits for Required Paid Sick Leave

  • You will receive a refundable payroll tax credit equal to 100% of qualified paid sick leave wages for each quarter.
    • This credit is claimed on your quarterly employment tax returns. To assist with cash flow, employers can fund the family leave pay by accessing employment taxes that have been withheld and set aside for deposit with the IRS.
    • The credit is capped at $511 per day for employees personally affected, and at $200 per day for employees who are caring for others.
  • If you are self-employed and you are diagnosed or have to comply with an isolation recommendation you are able to claim up to 100% of the qualified sick leave equivalent, if you are self-employed and you are caring for someone you can claim up to 67% of the sick leave amount.
    • The credit is refundable and will be credited against your income and self-employment taxes.
    • The credit is capped at $511 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the tax year.
    • You must retain documentation to establish eligibility for the credit.

Emergency Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) Expansion Act

  • If you have fewer than 500 employees your employees who have been working for at least 30 days are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of job-protected leave under the FMLA if they are caring for a child whose school or care provider has closed.
    • The first 10 days of this leave can be unpaid, but an employee could choose to use vacation, personal leave, or any other paid time off available.
    • After the first 10 days employers must provide two-thirds the normal pay rate.
  • Family leave pay is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 in total and is limited to 12 weeks in one calendar year.
  • If you have less than 50 employees the Department of Labor may exempt businesses from this requirement if it threatens the viability of the business.

Tax Credits for Required Paid Family Leave

  • You will receive a refundable payroll tax credit equal to 100% of qualified family leave wages paid.
    • This credit is claimed on your quarterly employment tax returns. To assist with cash flow, employers can fund the family leave pay by accessing employment taxes that have been withheld and set aside for deposit with the IRS.
    • The credit is capped at $200 per day and $10,000 dollars per calendar quarter.
    • The credit is triggered only after an employee has taken more than 10 days of paid sick leave.
  • If you are self-employed and you are caring for a child whose school or care provider has closed, then you are eligible for a tax credit equal to 100% of the qualified family leave equivalent.
    • The credit is refundable and will be credited against your income and self-employment taxes and it can be refundable against an employer’s payroll taxes.
    • The credit is capped at $200 per day or the average daily self-employment income for the tax year and is capped at 50 days.
    • You must retain documentation to establish eligibility for the credit.

 

Garnet Moore Head ShotAbout the Author

Garnet Moore is the Director of Operations at the Climbing Wall Association. Garnet brings more than a decade of experience in the climbing industry, including his time as the COO at Brewer's Ledge.

 

Tags:  coronavirus  COVID-19  human resources  leadership  management  public policy  regulations 

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Self-Care for Routesetters (and Anyone Experiencing Burnout)

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Thursday, January 2, 2020
Routesetters Need Self Care Too

Routesetters can work in many different scenarios – part or full time in a gym, setting for comps, freelancing for private clients, they can travel or stay in the same location or a combination of all those scenarios. The dynamic nature of the work can have routesetters juggling a lot – changing schedules, administrative duties, meetings, sorting out crew problems, and looking for work in addition to the physical labor of putting up new routes and stripping old ones.

 

Balancing the unique physical, creative, and administrative workload of routesetting creates prime conditions for burnout, which is on the rise generally. For more in-depth information on burnout culture, check out our previous post, Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms.

 

According to the The World Health Organization (WHO), burnout is chronic workplace stress and has been attributed to ‘Workism’ by Psychology Today. Workism is the belief that “work is not only necessary to economic production but also the centerpiece of one’s identity and life’s purpose; and the belief that any policy to promote human welfare must always encourage more work.”

 

In other words, when work takes priority over other aspects of life such as family, friendships, health, and fitness, not only do those aspects of life suffer, so does your work, creativity, and productivity. It can be a self-defeating and unending cycle.

 

Why Addressing Burnout Is Important

What happens when you experience fatigue and burnout? When you are fatigued, it is harder to perform your job and can increase your risk of injury. When you experience burnout, any creativity and enjoyment you experience in your work can be elusive. Fatigue and burnout also affect all aspects of your life, not just your work.

 

Often it takes a wake-up call either in the form of injury or an event in our personal lives to make us realize the toll that a demanding schedule and intense physical labor can take on our bodies and lives, but you don’t have to wait until everything falls apart. You can implement self-care strategies easily into your everyday life and work schedule.

 

How do you know when you are burnt out? You might experience lethargy and lack of motivation or interest in your work. Making time to accomplish your job responsibilities can seem impossible.

 

While there will be times when work takes over, burnout is a chronic experience, meaning that it's ongoing and can worsen over time. You don’t have to guess if you are experiencing burnout, you can assess yourself.

 

What Is Self-Care?

The antidote to burnout is self-care. Self-care is often misused to justify indulging in pleasure activities and might make you cringe at the thought of trying it.

 

However, make no mistake, self-care is not indulgence or engaging in frivolous activities. It is essential for mental, emotional, and physical well-being. Self-care is a set of skills that reduce anxiety and stress and promote relaxation.

 

Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. Although it is a simple concept in theory, it can be hard to implement, especially if you already feel overwhelmed and stressed.

 

But good self-care is key to overall well-being and professional fulfillment. Thinking of self-care as skills that you can learn provides a pathway to being able to more effectively cope with or even reverse the symptoms of burnout.

 

Essential Self-Care Skills

1. Time Management

 

Time management establishes boundaries between your work and personal life, while also improving how you spend your time at work. Time management can be as simple as implementing a calendar for your shift and how you will use your time in the gym, or you can schedule work, personal life, sleep, and other activities.

 

The hardest part of time management is adhering to the schedule that you create. Effective time management doesn’t schedule every minute of the day with activity, you will need to learn to block time that you can use to recharge.

 

Make sure you set realistic and attainable goals, and be willing to review and adjust how you are using your time to get the results you want.

 

2. Exercise

 

The physical work of routesetting can leave you exhausted when you experience burnout, but making time for exercise is essential to combatting the effects of burnout. Exercise reduces stress and improves sleep.

 

Exercising when you feel burnt out doesn’t have to be intense – in fact it shouldn’t be. Start with 30 minutes and build up. Try going for a walk outside or restorative yoga. Pay attention to how your body feels and do forms of exercise that lessen stress.

 

3. Sleep

 

The National Sleep Foundation defines sleep as, “an active period in which a lot of important processing, restoration, and strengthening occurs.” During times of stress, it can be notoriously hard to get the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep, however adopting sleep solutions can help set you up for sweet dreams instead of restless nights.

 

Sleep solutions teach you how to create a supportive sleep environment. For example, consider creating a sleep schedule, using soft light to prepare your body for sleep, and establishing a relaxing bedtime ritual.

 

4. Nutrition

 

When your body is experiencing stress, nutrition can support your physical health. Harvard Health promotes eating a whole food, plant-based diet and recommends staying away from processed carbohydrates that are inflammatory, sugar-spiking, and insulin releasing.

 

Instead, they advocate to “aim for things that grow on plants or trees. The more colorful the fruits or vegetables, the more vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants they have and the healthier they are. Vitamin pills and other supplements just don’t work as well. We don’t have to be perfect, but the more plant-based our diets are, the better.”

 

Self-care looks and feels different for everyone; develop your self-awareness as you apply these skills to your life and learn what works for you.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff retention 

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Burnout Culture: Defining the Problem and Potential Solutions for Climbing Gyms

Posted By Amanda Ashley, Tuesday, December 10, 2019
Burnout Culture in Climbing Gyms

Burnout as defined by The World Health Organization (WHO) is a syndrome that occurs as the result of chronic workplace stress. Burnout isn’t a temporary experience – in fact, it has become a societal epidemic that can have negative impacts on your business.

 

With 1 in 5 employees reporting they experience burnout, your gym might already be experiencing the effects of burnout. We’re going to look at what burnout is and what you can do if your staff experiences it.

 

Burnout: What Does it Look Like?

When you’re concerned your staff is underperforming and lacks motivation, it’s important to determine their stage of burnout in order to implement a strategy to reduce the negative impact on your business.

 

Burnout has been added to the WHO’s International Classification of Diseases and has three characteristics, as defined by the WHO:

  1. feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  2. increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
  3. and reduced professional efficacy.

While staff can experience different symptoms, there are five common stages of burnout:

  1. Honeymoon: The experience of commitment, energy, and creativity.
  2. Onset of Stress: The occasional experience of tough and challenging days here and there.
  3. Chronic Stress: The consistent experience of every day being tough and challenging, depleted energy, anxiety, and lack of focus.
  4. Burnout: The occasional experience of lack of motivation & creativity, low energy, pessimistic outlook, irritability, self-doubt, and isolation.
  5. Habitual Burnout: Consistent and chronic mental and physical fatigue, depression, neglect of personal needs, and loss of motivation and creativity.

The Causes of Burnout Culture

According to Harvard Business Review, a workplace that doesn’t promote a healthy work/life balance is at the highest risk of experiencing burnout culture. While individuals experience the consequences of burnout, the underlying cause of burnout is due to the organization’s overall workplace culture and being trapped in the busyness paradox.

 

The busyness paradox conflates the state of being busy (for example, getting sidetracked with low value tasks or running around putting out fires all day) with producing high quality work based on intentional strategic purpose.

 

Given that busyness is often looked at as a badge of honor, what steps can you take to shift how your organization approaches productivity and ultimately improve your workplace culture?

 

Managing Burnout in the Gym

Research shows that known costs of turnover can be as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary, in addition to hidden costs such as reduced productivity, dissatisfied gym members, lowered staff morale, and compromised workplace safety. Managing staff burnout not only reduces negative impacts on the bottom line, but also supports a dynamic and positive gym culture.

 

The good news is that burnout is preventable when you focus on the key elements that you can control in your gym:

  • Labor
  • Performance
  • Morale

Labor, performance, and morale are measurable metrics that need to be tracked from an employee’s start date and throughout their employment. Effective and consistent HR management can reduce and eliminate burnout. It is not enough to guess if your staff is struggling, you need data that includes:

  1. How many hours they are working: Easily tracked through payroll and corrected through effective scheduling.
  2. What their performance is: Determined through reviews and underperforming staff can improve through training and mentoring.
  3. The state of their morale: Established through an employee survey that addresses how the staff feels about working, the working conditions at your gym, and what the staff wants to see improved.

It is important to know which factor(s) are contributing to burnout. For instance, a staff member not working excessive hours with good morale and low performance may need additional training or mentoring. Likewise, a staff member with great performance and low morale may be working too much.

 

Once you determine how much each potential factor is contributing to burnout, work with your staff to implement a remedy. Most likely, each factor will have some play in burnout and working to remedy even one factor can help lessen the overall impact of burnout.

 

While you can use metrics to gauge what needs improvement, do not forget basics like communication and interacting with staff, especially when you host comps or events in your gym.

 

Planning is crucial to getting back to the day-to-day after a special event. “Having a plan to make the workload manageable before, during, and after an event is mandatory if you want to ensure that events have minimal impact on a commercial facility and its routesetters,“ says Brad Weaver from Thread Climbing. “Having a plan in place and communicating that plan to the setting team and the gym staff helps set everyone’s expectations and helps reduce the stress on everyone involved.”

 

The bottom line is that though burnout is an individual experience, it’s generally a problem with the company, not the person. Depending on the size of your gym and how widespread your burnout problem is, it may be necessary to implement proactive cultural changes to how your business operates so that you are not constantly reacting to chronic cases of burnout in your staff.

 

Amanda Ashley Head ShotAbout Amanda Ashley

Amanda Ashley is a writer, climber, and a climbing mom. From her early days spent training on the musty community woody in The School at the New River Gorge to training in modern mega climbing gyms all over the West, she's seen the rise of climbing gyms and the evolution of routesetting up close and personal for the past 20 years. Amanda writes about climbers, routesetting, changes in climbing movement and performance, and the climbing industry. Amanda's work has appeared in Climbing Magazine, Climbing Business Journal, and the Utah Adventure Journal.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  employee turnover  human resources  leadership  management  operations  staff retention  staff training 

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Creating a Positive Workplace Culture for Safety in the Climbing Gym

Posted By Aaron Gibson, Tuesday, December 3, 2019
Safety Culture

In this article we will take a look at how we can take a positive approach to creating a culture for safety in the climbing gym environment. At the end of the article, be sure to download our one-page quick reference guide to developing a safety program.

 

The term “Safety Culture” was coined by the International Nuclear Safety Advisory Group following the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl in 1986. In their summary report, ‘safety culture’ was pointed to as an underlying cause for the catastrophe. It was used as an explanation for the attitudes, actions, and systemic failures that led to the cascading effect of failures.

 

Over the years, ideas about ‘safety culture’ have evolved with research but the concepts, application, and understanding of what creates a broader “culture for safety” remain vital.

 

The Case for Workplace Safety

First, it is important to distinguish between those risk management issues that we deal with at a customer/patron level versus those at an occupational level. A customer chooses to accept a certain level of risk, most often via a liability waiver, in order to participate in climbing activities.

 

Juxtapose this with an employer who has a duty, to maintain a workplace free from recognized hazards “likely to cause serious physical harm or death” and “comply with occupational safety and health standards.”[1] Likewise, each employee must also comply with health and safety rules, regulations, and standards, in addition to gym policies and procedures.

 

Besides the legal obligation that workplace safety is a requirement, there are other worthwhile reasons to move towards a pro-safety workplace.

 

Morally, it’s the right thing to do! Climbing gym employees and employers are often a collective of fellow climbers and friends. In such a community, we look out for each other.

 

Another reason is that there’s a business case for safety. A recent study found that workplace safety influences customer satisfaction, “suggesting that there are likely spillover effects between the safety environment and the service environment.”[2] This study showed that customer satisfaction and a company’s safety climate and injury rates were “significantly correlated.”[3]

 

Although the research was conducted in the electrical utility industry, and no specific research has been conducted correlating climbing gym customers and worker safety, it’s worth considering the parallels within service industries as a whole. Anecdotal evidence suggests that when employers take the safety of their employees seriously, they benefit through customer loyalty. In other words, a safe gym environment translates to a safer environment not only for your employees but to the customer as well.

 

Finally, a good safety program reflects a level of professionalism. Climbing walls/gyms in the modern age are legitimate operations that offer lifelong careers and provide health and fitness opportunities for generations of climbers. Employees are looking for opportunities for growth and desire to have lasting employment in a professional environment. Having written programs and systems in place is a key component for demonstrating that employee safety, health, and wellbeing are core values.

 

Safety Culture Characteristics

Looking to lessons from the nuclear power industry again, they identified five basic characteristics of a culture for safety that we can adapt to the climbing gym environment:[4]

  1. Safety is a clearly recognized value
  2. Accountability for safety is clear
  3. Safety is learning driven
  4. Safety is integrated into all activities
  5. Leadership for safety is clear
Safety Culture Characteristics

Each of these characteristics has specific attributes that contribute to sustaining safety culture.[5] For example, in order for safety to be a clearly recognized value (item 1), safety conscious behavior must be socially acceptable and supported by the employer and employees alike.

 

Item 3, “Safety is learning driven,” means that a questioning attitude prevails, that learning is encouraged, and assessments are used and tracked.

 

And for item 5, “Leadership for safety is clear,” the commitment to safety should be evident at all levels, and management should build trust to ensure continual openness and communication with individuals.

 

Positive Safety Leadership

Management reacting solely when there is an incident is short-sighted and ineffective. In a reactive safety environment, employees hide or do not want to report an injury for fear of retaliation or punishment. Consequently, blaming an employee rarely results in a positive outcome or a safer workplace.

 

Instead, management should take a proactive approach to make accountability a positive not a negative. Rather than focusing on blaming someone for a mistake, focus on what it takes to remedy the situation and enabling workers to practice safe work habits.

 

Accepting that hazards are inevitable and there is always the possibility of an accident, involve employees and work towards solutions that are meaningful to them. Positive reinforcement does not mean incentivizing employees for safe work but instead rewarding them through recognition and praise when someone does something well.

 

Measuring Safety Progress

Data have shown that there can be prolonged periods of time between incidents, but an unsafe working environment can still exist. The traditional approach, simply measuring accident rates is not a good means of determining if you have a sustainable safety program.[6]

 

In order for us to confirm that we are on the right track with our safety program, we have to be able to measure key components of the program.

 

Good data begins with selecting the right things to measure. Focus on measuring positive performance aspects of your program like:[7]

  • Safety Activities
  • Participation Rate
  • Perceptions
  • Behaviors
  • Conditions

Track the behaviors of workers on things like accident prevention, reporting unsafe situations, taking corrective action, wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), and participating in training. For example, track the use of protective eyewear rather than the number of eye injuries.

 

Gym Program Areas

Below are some of the program areas that may be relevant to your climbing wall or gym. This is not a comprehensive list as activities vary among facilities, so it is important to consider all the potential hazards and program areas.

 

Within each of these areas there are specifics that need to be tailored to the facility while keeping in mind OSHA regulations, state and local laws, insurance requirements, and industry standards.

  • Fall Protection – Comprehensive for routesetters and awareness level for other employees. Include training on dropped object prevention.
  • Portable Ladder Safety
  • Eye Protection
  • Hearing Protection
  • Emergency Action/Response Plan
  • First Aid/CPR
  • Aerial Lift Safety
  • Spill Response
  • Slips/Trips/Falls
  • Access/Egress

Example Scenario

Take a look at the following situation and consider the questions that follow:

 

A loose hold on a top rope climbing wall is reported to the front desk staff person by a member. Unfortunately, no routesetter is available but the staff person, who has some experience tightening holds, is eager to help, and takes it upon themself to address the issue. In an effort to tighten the hold quickly the staff person avoids getting a stepladder, extension ladder, or using a harness/rope system and instead climbs about eight feet high. In the course of tightening the hold with an impact wrench, the staff person slips from another loose hold, lands awkwardly, and seriously injures their back.

  • What contributing factors might have resulted in this accident?
  • What areas for improvements are there?
  • If you were in a management role how would you communicate with the employee? How would you communicate with other staff?
  • What can be learned from and improved upon from this incident and how is that communicated?
  • What other proactive measures might be considered going forward?

Clearly, the intentions of the staff person were good, as they were attempting to demonstrate good customer service and be proactive in remedying the situation on their own. But unfortunately, the choices the staff person made resulted in their injury.

 

For this situation a number of other variables would exist based on the facility itself. We might want to explore if there was a system or rule in place for who is authorized to address climbing wall maintenance. From there we could determine if the person was authorized to tighten holds and if they had the appropriate training. Other things we would want to look at would be the standard work practice for climbing wall work, do we allow someone to climb and set or should they be working off a ladder, lift, or via a harness and rope system?

 

Unfortunately, sometimes we do not know there is a weakness in our program until something goes wrong. Part of moving towards a culture for safety includes anticipating various types of incidents and proactively addressing them, but that’s not always possible. We have to accept that even the best programs can have gaps and take a productive approach.

 

In this case, the focus would be on improving the systems, communication, and training that can prevent future incidents from occurring and then tracking those changes going forward.

 

In Conclusion

Maintaining a positive safety culture is a process. There will always be pitfalls and areas for improvement.

 

The National Safety Council sums it up best by stating, “In an organization with a positive safety climate, where safety does not take a back seat to productivity, employees are likely to believe they have permission to do things right. Doing things right is a permeating value in a work unit that is likely to reach into several domains of work behavior, some of which influence the quality of work.”

 

Download our cheat sheet for a quick-reference resource containing guidelines for developing a safety program!

 

References

  1. OSHA General Duty Clause
  2. Does employee safety influence customer satisfaction? Evidence from the electric utility industry, P. Geoffrey Willis, Karen A. Brown, Gregory E. Prussia, 2012, Journal of Safety Research
  3. Can Worker Safety Impact Customer Satisfaction?, Laura Walter, EHS Today
  4. Chernobyl: 30 Years On - Lessons in Safety Culture, Aerossurance
  5. Culture for Safety, International Atomi Energy Agency
  6. Building the Foundation for a Sustainable Safety Culture, Judy Agnew, EHS Today
  7. 5 New Metrics to Transform Safety, Terry L. Mathis, ProAct Safety

Resources

 

Aaron Gibson Head ShotAbout Aaron Gibson

Aaron is a climber of over 27 years and an EOSH Professional specializing in fall protection, health, and safety. He holds a Masters of Science in Environmental Epidemiology & Toxicology and is an Associate Safety Professional (ASP) through the Board of Certified Safety Professionals. He has over fifteen years of experience in workplace and environmental health and safety serving local, state, and federal agencies as well as private industry. Aaron has applied his experience to the climbing industry as a safety industry consultant/expert, as well as a gym owner and manager, a USA Climbing coach, USA Climbing certified routesetter, CWA Climbing Wall Instructor Provider, and AMGA Single Pitch Instructor. You can contact Aaron at aaron@rockislandclimbing.com.

 

Tags:  company culture  customer service  human resources  management  operations  OSHA  risk management  staff training 

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Gender, Variety, and Growth in Routesetting

Posted By Willis Kuelthau, Monday, December 2, 2019
Jackie Hueftle Routesetting

As I’ve interviewed routesetters about their industry, topics that have come up over and over are diversity, variety, and professionalism.

 

A major piece of the puzzle is a setting crew that can set for diverse climbers—and that means a diverse crew. Many gyms lack setters outside the typical archetype of the tall male climber, especially female routesetters.

 

To get some perspective, I got in touch with one of the most experienced setters in the business. Jackie Hueftle has been setting for more than two decades as a competition setter, head setter, and everything in between. She currently works predominantly in her own climbing hold company, Kilter Grips.

 

WK: What role do you think diversity and variety play in routesetting?

JH: Diversity and variety are very important because climbing is about learning different moves, and the more moves you learn, the better you get at climbing (and the more fun it is!).

 

Diversity in size, strengths, and style of setters leads to the greatest diversity in movement which serves the entire gym population better by giving them stuff they are good at and stuff to work on in a variety of styles.

 

WK: Do you think homogeneity among setting staff is an issue?

JH: It can be; it depends on the gym and community. Even 5 5'10" tall 22 year old males can set totally different styles, and some of the reachiest setting I've seen has been from some of the shortest setters on my crews.

 

So basically diversity is good, but part of it is up to the setters and part of it is up to the owners/managers to give their setting crew the time and tools to experiment with different styles and create a diverse offering for their gym. Certainly having different sizes of humans is helpful to create more variety automatically.

 

WK: How much of a role does gender play in routesetting variety?

JH: It can play a big role, but it can also not matter either way. Traditionally certain genders were thought to have different strengths, but as more and more people break those molds it's becoming more about the setters' educations and efforts than their gender.

 

That said, like I said above about sizes of people, having people with different natural strengths and climbing styles is important, regardless of their gender. Perhaps it's better to consider adding newer climbers of both genders into the setting program, as with some training in setting and movement, they may be better able to empathize with the experiences of new climbers and therefore set stuff more appropriate to helping those people learn.

 

WK: What were some of the challenges of setting (or managing a setting team) as a female routesetter?

JH: Working events with an assortment of setters (with me as just another crew setter) was sometimes fine, but it also often I felt like I had to try extra hard for my opinion to be valued. A few times I stood behind my opinion and was later punished for it. I saw men in similar positions to me whose opinions were automatically more respected than mine. So that was frustrating.

 

Also, it seems like in the climbing hierarchy, being the strongest is always overvalued, and I was never the strongest. The strongest climbers don't always set the best routes or take the time to consider all the aspects of a route or a comp. On a crew you need many types of setters to create the best product.

 

Despite that logic, strength automatically wins socially in climbing/setting and so I have seen setters defer over and over again to someone stronger than them even though that person might not be as conscientious. Some gyms have this problem and it becomes endemic, so unless someone steps in and actively changes the culture, these strongest setters can ruin the experience of the rest of the crew and also the customers.

 

Strong climbers can also be amazing, conscientious setters. It's worth recognizing that they may need to work extra hard to empathize with newer and weaker climbers and the overall needs of a customer base.

 

Personally, as I got older and ran my own crew I didn't feel I had many challenges that were based on my gender. The Head Setter's main jobs are to be organized, to make sure tools and supplies are available, to educate, to give direction, and to integrate the setting department with the rest of the gym. We run 4+ big events a year at The Spot, so when I was Head Setter there we had a lot of room to do fun things during comps and then have a good regular rotation to meet our customer base's needs. I was doing most of these things before I even took over as Head Setter, and a while after that pretty much my whole crew was people I'd hired, so they worked for me as they'd work for any manager.

 

WK: Were there any advantages to setting (or managing) as a female routesetter?

JH: To some degree being a different gender than most of the crew made it easier to step out of the social hierarchy I mention above. I was also about 10 years older and way more experienced than most of them. Also, we focused on the customer base's needs, and those needs were pretty easy to identify and meet through organizing the program. So I guess advantages might be a penchant for administration, though you'll find plenty of men with those skills as well.

 

WK: Do you think there are any factors discouraging women (and other underrepresented groups) from becoming routesetters?

JH: Sure! The work is physical and doesn't pay super well and in some areas the culture isn't good as far as conversation topics. Many gyms are in stages of transition as far as professionalism and safety go.

 

It can be intimidating to start setting or hard to get a chance to start, and when you start setting you need to spend a lot of time learning, and of course being strong enough to carry big ladders and forerun a good portion of the climbs is useful, so there is a bit of a barrier there — though as I mentioned, I think that different people can still make very valuable contributions to a team even if they are not the strongest member.

 

WK: What can gyms, management, or other setters do to counteract those factors?

JH: Foster talent in your own program and have programs to attract and improve new talents. Have public clinics, allow non-setters who are interested in setting to forerun with the group, wash holds, and learn other setting related tasks to see if they're willing to work hard and would be a good fit.

 

For your own team, have clinics (self-taught or with outside talent) to help them improve, and then build in learning time in your program so it's not just about how many problems/routes you can set and how quickly, but how you are using the skills you're learning at the clinics and how good the end product is.

 

Give your setters plenty of feedback and reviews, let them explore new ideas, give them time to practice new skills, and support them in professional development.

 

Work with your team and it will be a better team that is more receptive to new team members and creates a better end product for your customers.

 

WK: As routesetting becomes increasingly professionalized, do you think the demands on routesetters will increase?

JH: Definitely. Setters have huge responsibility to help craft the customer experience at gyms, and gym management has a responsibility to support the setting program with resources and information — with holds, tools, time to organize and focus on employee health and wellness, and access to continuing education.

 

WK: Climbing’s popularity continues to rise — do you see any major changes for routesetting (or the sport as a whole) on the horizon?

JH: Setting will continue to get more professional, both in safety practices and in organizational practices and product output. There is a ton of room to improve still and many people are motivated to push our industry and trade to the next level.

 

WK: The conversation around inclusivity in climbing can be polarizing. What do you think is most important for gyms, setters, and climbers moving forward?

JH: We need to throw out the old narrative that climbing should be super sandbagged and is always a man contest and only outdoor climbers are real climbers. Indoor climbing is a great sport for fitness and social interaction. Many new climbers may only ever climb inside, and that's ok. The more we can support this side of climbing, the more positive this growth will be for climbing as a whole.

 

Willis Kuelthau Head ShotAbout the Author

Willis is the rare local who was actually born in Boulder, Colorado. He attended Williams College and works as a freelance writer out of Providence, Rhode Island. When he's not writing, you'll find him rock climbing, playing with his cats, and drinking too much green tea.

 

Tags:  company culture  employee engagement  human resources  leadership  management  routesetting  routesetting management  staff training  women  workplace diversity 

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