Did your staff hit that mid-summer slump? Are gifts and parties not having the lasting effect you hoped it would?
While recognizing your staff and doing things like gift exchanges, staff parties and special food items are wonderful things to do, they aren’t enough.
Did you know some camps never deal with the mid-summer slump? It’s true. Your staff doesn’t have to feel it either. Yes, working at a resident camp demands a lot of time, energy and focus from each staff person. It can be draining, but it can also be exhilarating. You can be exhausted and still avoid the “slump”.
The first issue that leads to the staff slump is a repetitive and stale camp program. We live in a time when our lives are full of variety. At any given moment a person can engage in watching a variety of movies, TV shows and YouTube videos, playing a variety of video games, going to a variety of restaurants, shopping at a variety of stores, choosing from a variety of groceries, choosing from a variety of clothing, choosing from a variety of educational opportunities, using a variety of apps, etc. Then that person gets a job at a summer camp and they find that every week the dining hall has the same menu, they are taking their cabin to the same activities using the same paths, they are subjected to the same evening programs, their cabin is full of the same age group, they are going through the same routines of check-in, check-out, announcements, camp store, etc.
SLUMP BUSTER #1 – VARIETY
Every one loves and appreciates variety. As humans we are energized by new experiences, novelty, variety. New experiences engage the mind in multiple ways. If camp is pretty much the same every week, it may be time to shake things up. Of course, the main structure of your program should remain consistent and familiar. For example, the times of your meals and the schedule of your general programming would remain the same. I’m just suggesting an addition of variety and novelty to the different areas of camp and your program. Here are some ideas.
- DINING HALL – Change up the menu. Provide new breakfasts, lunches and dinners. Have a salad bar available and change the toppings around. Have theme meals. Move the tables into a different configuration.
- AGE GROUPS – Some counselors are meant to work with a certain age and would not be effective elsewhere, but you may be shocked that many of them will get just as much enjoyment out of working with a different age group, even if they don’t know it themselves. I have placed staff who are adamant about working with teens into a cabin of 7 year olds and they loved it. I have also done the reverse with great results. It gives them a new perspective on things and it re-energizes them. As a director or program director it is up to you to decide which staff this might work for and who should remain with a specific age group, but give it a try, if even for a day.
- ACTIVITIES – There are so many things you can do to change-up activities, from offering new ones to changing up current ones. A staff person that teaches archery every day will quickly become bored with it, as will any staff person who is running an activity. If you’re having trouble thinking of ways to add variety to activities, do some brainstorming with your specialty staff. Here are just a few ideas to get the ball rolling.
- Archery – Introduce new targets, new equipment and new games/competitions.
- Rock-Climbing – Give your climbing instructors a gift card to purchase a new climbing harness, allow them to change the holds on the wall, change the bell at the top to an air horn, let them decorate the climbing helmets.
- Rope Course – Let the instructors create new initiatives, create new signs for each element, create stories and metaphors for the ropes program.
- Games – Teach new games, design bigger games, get new equipment.
- Escape Room – Put together an Escape Room.
- ACTIVITY PROGRAMMING – Let campers and/or cabin groups choose their own activities on occasion. If the younger campers are always at the waterfront on Monday mornings, change it up and have the older campers go instead. Let the staff run an activity that is new and they are passionate about.
- FACILITIES – Even the facilities can become stale. Assign your staff new cabins, let them decorate the cabins. Decorate the dining hall. Add a touch of whimsy.
- EVENING PROGRAMS – If you have the same schedule of evening programs each week, change it up. You can stick with campfires on the first and last night, but there are plenty of different things you can do for evening activities including dances, camp wide games, tournaments, hunts, vespers, game shows, camper film festivals, and talent shows.
- THEME WEEKS – Giving a theme to each week can work wonders for staff. Costumes, decorations, themed activities and more gives each week a freshness that staff can embrace.
I HAVE NO SAY
People will always have ideas. Many of them would like to see an improvement in their workplace. Often, however, directors and program directors don’t want to hear about them. This happens for a number of reasons. “The schedule is already set and it works fine.” “We fill our bunks with the program and facilities we have. Why change anything?” “There’s no money in the budget to try new things.” It’s said that Walt Disney would ask everyone who worked for him for their ideas and opinions, from animators to janitors. Apparently, fireflies were added to the Pirates of the Caribbean ride after a janitor had suggested it.
SLUMP BUSTER #2 – STAFF PASSION AND INTERESTS
If a staff person comes to you and has an idea for a new program or a new way of doing something, they probably have some passion about the project. Give them control over the idea workflow. In other words, let them take on the project from start to end. Also, give your staff a voice. Let them be heard and act on it. Don’t just put out a suggestion box or ask for ideas that you won’t look at until the fall (or ever). You may be good at surveying your parents (which is important to do), but the staff are the ones who are around the campers all day. They know what kids want, and parents will rarely send their kids to a camp they don’t want to go to. Here are some ways you can give your staff a voice and engage their interests and ideas.
- Give them the opportunity to lead their own activities. You may have a counselor who is really into dancing, or magic, or theater, or fly fishing. Give them an opportunity to create a program. Give them a budget, specific parameters, a timeline and encouragement.
- Ask staff if they want to help plan and run a special event. Assign an event and give them time to plan, prep and run it.
- Ask staff if any of them want to take on a facility improvement project. Get their ideas and provide the supplies, assistants and time.
- Ask staff if any of them have ideas on improving camp. If someone mentions meals, give them an opportunity to sit down with the head cook. If someone mentions program time, they can meet with the program director. If someone mentions a specific activity like disc golf, give them time to research the cost and map out a course for next summer.
I HAVE NO ENERGY
Camp is exhausting. Watching kids all day long, being outside in the sun (or other extreme weather condition), and working all day long with minimal breaks can take its toll on anyone. Compound that with a few hours of sleep, dehydration and camp food and it’s no wonder resident camp staff find themselves in a slump after 4 or 5 weeks.
SLUMP BUSTER #3 – PHYSICAL VIBRANCY
Everyone knows that power of nutrition, exercise, hydration and sleep. Regardless of the fact that many of us may not be shining examples of healthy living, it is in the best interest of your camp to encourage your staff to do three things:
- Get 7-8 hours of sleep per night. – I fully understand this is not always possible, but I also know that I spent many late nights talking with other staff well past lights out when I was a counselor. Getting 4-6 hours of sleep per night is not the best thing for a person who is working 14+ hours per day.
- Eat nutritionally balanced meals. – Skipping breakfast and only eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches because you don’t want to eat what’s on the menu will not do your body (and energy level) any favors. Camps need to make sure they are offering meals that are good for their staff and campers. Take a look at your menu. Could the options be better nutritionally and still be tasteful? Give your camp the gift of good food.
- Stay hydrated. – For years it’s been said that 8 glasses of water per day is what we should be drinking. Most experts these days will tell you that 64 oz is nowhere near enough. Most of us are dehydrated throughout the day. Add in working outside all day and the minimum goes way up. Not getting enough water is the #1 cause of headaches. It also causes general fatigue. Put a system in place that challenges staff to drink more, maybe even rewards them.
There is a fourth area, and that is exercise. However, at most camps, staff are walking and standing and playing all day long.
AVOID THE SLUMP
It may be a little late this summer to implement these tactics, but if you can, give them a try. Definitely use them next summer. Who knows, you may just avoid the slump all together.