My 1978 Fiat had a toggle switch for lights — and it was awesome. They were on or off, no flipping around with running lights, fog lights, or any other mess.
We love these single-choice, yes/no situations. No nuances, fuss, or insight required. Simplicity is a luxury — but the real world requires more categories than we might like. When it comes to staff health, I can think of three.
We were all sick this summer, and, while COVID-19 got most of the pregame attention, it was flu, strep, and typical camp crud that were the surprising star players at many camps. As a result, we were working (and worrying) overtime to keep enough staff healthy to run great programs. This meant balancing sleep and time off with a real need to “play through the pain.” It’s a terrible trade-off, but in an understaffed year there weren’t a lot of options.
One player to put on the field is over-the-counter (OTC) medications. The problem is that many college students (yes, I’ll say it, guys in particular) won’t take the time to go to the infirmary, and during a sick session, infirmaries don’t need increased traffic, so we’re thinking about how to make OTC medications more accessible for adult counselors. They won’t go to the infirmary, but they might walk up to a health station in the dining hall.
The solution here is not traditional time off; it’s a different type of time off. We’ve started thinking of ordinary days and nights off — time away with their camp friends — as compensation. It’s why staff come back each summer: to see these people in this place while doing this work together. This “salary” generally involves a lot of fun but not much rest.
Our solution here is to steal author Andy Stanley’s line: “Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone.” I used to worry that if I told someone yes, I’d have to say yes to every similar request — until I decided to prioritize the person in front of me rather than the one who might come behind them. Now I try to say yes every time, and when I am unable to I just say, “Sorry, I can’t.”
It’s magical. It lets me do great work for most of our staff and reasonable work for the one or two I have to say no to. “You’re tired? Take a sleeping bag to the infirmary and sleep. Please be back by dinner. How does that sound?” When the staff know you will do everything you can for them, they start to trust the program — and that’s a force multiplier.
Sick And Tired
Full staff meeting, last week of camp.
Question asked: “Where have you seen another staff member do something that demonstrated one of our core values?”
Answer given: “I saw Molly give her new campers a tour of camp on the last opening day.”
Staff response: general murmuring to indicate they are all impressed.
Camp director interior dialogue: “Wasn’t that what we all did the first half of the summer? Isn’t that what we were trained to do every time?”
Camp director response: “Great job, Molly!”
The problem here was not that the staff were tired from, it was that they were tired of. Put another way, they were not physically tired, they were emotionally tired. I genuinely believe that recognizing this distinction is one of a leader’s most important responsibilities. When people get tired from doing something, they may get tired of doing other things, but tired of and tired from are different things with different remedies.
Of course there’s important overlap between being sick, being tired, and being sick and tired. Sick needs Advil and an exposure control plan. Tired from needs solutions like time in the infirmary with a sleeping bag. Tired of needs solutions like senior staff overseeing cabins while counselors have an ice cream party at the lake.
With all of these challenges, our best defense starts with knowing where the other team’s star players are lining up and then putting the right defenders on the field. So let’s mix our metaphors, sell the Fiat, and buy a 2023 Tesla with a few more options on the dash.
Adam Boyd, DMin, and his wife, Ann, are the executive directors of camps Merri-Mac for Girls and Timberlake for Boys in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Adam is the author of Jonathan Edwards, Beauty, and Younger Evangelicals and serves on the board of the North Carolina Youth Camp Association.