Tips for Keeping GOOD Year-Round Staff

At the ACA’s Annual Conference, we were pleased to have Ruby Compton as our keynote speaker. Ruby gave the opening keynote address “The Big Picture - Creating a Healthy Camp Operation”. A key component of her address was focusing on those awesome, year-round staff who aren’t necessarily managers or directors, but who are so critical to a healthy camp operation. Those great staff members usually don’t stay working at camp for as long as we’d like. The discussion was around why they leave and how we can retain them. Here are our notes from the session:

Camp has a problem: good people are leaving.

One of the big reasons why people are leaving camping is because we treat people like they’re going to leave. Perhaps it is because there are not a lot of camp jobs, and we have a lot of summer staff who would like to stay year-round…that might make your year-round staff feel like they are very replaceable.

Society doesn’t seem to see camp as a legitimate job. Do you?

How many are sick of hearing the question “When are you getting a real job?” We have to stop treating employees like it’s only a matter of time before they go for that ‘real job’. Working full-time at camp is a legitimate, meaningful, rewarding and very REAL job.

Here are some reasons why your staff choose to leave:  

Too much to do, always.

Seasonal staff have a schedule to follow, a clear list of to-dos and they have simple jobs (like teaching a kid to play tennis) but when they are full time staff now they have to do things like manage staff, fill bunks and a new pile of abstract goals. We see people over and over again that are great programmers, so we pull them into that year-round role and wonder why they aren’t doing a good job. There are skill deficits. They can be trained, but you have to take the time to do that.

How many times have you heard a camp director say that they wear many hats? If you’re doing jobs that other companies have a whole department for, you are doing too much. If you are trying to be jack-of-all-trades, expert-at-none, you are never going to cut it and your staff and operations will suffer. Start looking at who you can hire, part time or contract basis, to make sure those jobs are getting done properly. We can’t be operating in a system where we feel like we are drowning.

There’s not enough time for family.

Camp professionals might feel like they have a choice to be a good camp manager or to be a good parent. In some experiences, camp directors and support staff that have their family at camp have more sustainable careers. Recognize that people need family time and they might stick around longer.

No time to date.

If you don’t have a family, then you’re stuck because it’s so hard to find someone if you’re isolated out at camp! More than just dating, most camp professionals have no time for friends outside of camp. Some people leave their job because of the isolation, especially in the off season when camp is running on a skeleton crew and there is a big lack of social life outside of camp. There are no friends nearby, living in the middle of nowhere and being unable to meet people is a good reason to look for a different job.

There’s no where to go.

Good camp staff might leave if they feel like they are no longer being challenged in their job and, unless the director quits, there is nowhere for them to go within the organization. Do the needs of the job align with the needs of the job? Recognize that changes might need to take place either in the jobs or in the people so they mesh.

Different values.

Camp job or no camp job, often people leave because they disagree with management, policy or other values that don’t align with them. In some cases, these disagreements can be settled. In others, you should try to line up the values of your potential staff applicants with the values of your organization to improve staff retention.

Work-life balance vs. work-life integration.

People who work at camp usually have a work-life integration instead of a work-life balance, regardless if that was their intention or not. As an employer, you have to advocate for work-life balance. You can’t say to your employees that you expect them to work all the time, not have a personal life and dedicate their entire life to camp…and expect good people to stay. People need more than that. You can find ways to advocate for balance. It doesn’t mean that person won’t ingrate on their own, but as an employer you have to facilitate balance.

How do I want to spend my time?

Choice on how you spend your time is directly correlated to satisfaction of your life. For example, think about standing in line. Would you rather spend your time in a line up at the buffet or at the table chatting with close friends? Chances are, you would be more satisfied with your life it was spent in the company of those you care about. You can go up to the buffet when the line dies down!

The feeling of productivity comes rom the feeling of having control over one’s time. - Chris Bailey, The Productivity Project.

Look at care vs. productivity. The amount of care someone has about something correlates on how productive they are, how satisfied with their job they are and if they’re likely to stick around.

If you don’t care at all, nothing gets done. On the other hand, if you care too much and are a stickler about it, then it can keep tings from getting done. There is a sweet spot between 25-75% care level where you have to care some, but it can’t be all you think about. Sometimes we fall into a trap at camp, keeping a bad staff member on board because we know they care so much, regardless of how unproductive they are.  

You want staff who:


Categories: Aca Annual Conference, Camp Human Resources