This blog post is the second in a two-part series about staff culture. Check out the first part here.

Feeling Better

Whew! I am feeling a little better. Putting on my oxygen mask felt really good. I am starting to exercise again, making time to go to yoga, and being grateful for the many gifts nature gives this time of year. I can actually look at the bag sitting on my floor from Part 1 that is waiting to be unpacked. There is a lot of dirty laundry that needs to be sorted, and as I get to that, I know the pile will gradually become more manageable. It is important to take my time and reflect on the many layers of this past summer.

While out on a walk with my dogs, I listened to the September 13 episode of Brene Brown’s Dare to Lead podcast with guest Amy Cuddy, PhD. She helped put some perspective on what I have been feeling over these past months. Cuddy talked about the “Pandemic Flux Syndrome.” She was spot on when she mentioned that we have been in flux for 18 months or more with an ever-growing stockpile of uncertainty. I’m finding comfort knowing that I am not the only one feeling exhausted. 

Three Stages of a Crisis

Dr. Cuddy also laid out the three stages of a crisis with the first being the emergency phase. This rings true in my own situation. I really kicked it in gear during the initial months of lockdown. I was able to dig deep and have laser focus on making summer 2020 happen in some form or fashion. This even continued in the months leading up to 2021, and I now know that my surge capacity can only stretch so far. My energy was high for the short term and the first round of COVID battles, but I was in no way prepared for the long-term war a pandemic brings.

The second phase of a crisis is the regression phase. I recognize that I am not moving forward with the same aim or intent I had before. I definitely felt a pull in the opposite direction this summer that was out of my control. I may have (understandably so) focused too much time in the weeds of COVID workarounds which got me off track with my staff/camp culture. I also don’t want to forget that in preparing for last summer, I was thinking outside of our normal camp structure. I actually discovered changes that are, in fact, better for our camp culture.

The good news is that I am starting to feel myself heading toward the third, or rebuilding, phase of a crisis. I want to reclaim my purpose and intent for summer 2022. I’m just not quite sure how to do this. 

Safety Information Card

I think back to the oxygen mask in the overhead compartment and also remember that there is a safety information card in the pocket of the seat in front of me. I am guilty of not always reading this card or listening to the flight attendant tell me how to put on my oxygen mask correctly. But, this time I did. I religiously read and reread ACA’s comprehensive COVID guidelines for camps and participated in every webinar or online gathering of camp pros to discuss ways of implementing these protocols. 

I know how to quarantine, create programming for pods, make new plans for drop-off and pickup, and so much more. With this newfound experience and confidence, I am prepared for an “emergency landing.”  I can efficiently check off these “boxes” for 2022. I need to remember that it is a safety information card (and not a five-inch binder!) that is in the seat pocket. I like seeing the instructions laid out in a clear and concise fashion (something I hope to mimic). 

Flight attendants have many, many hours of training, yet they only spend a few minutes reviewing emergency procedures with passengers at the beginning. The majority of the flight is about making the experience as comfortable as possible (including drinks and snacks!) and keeping the final destination in sight. I need to do the same.

According to the recent webinar, “I Survived the Summer,' with Bob Ditter, I am one of 95 percent that self-reported a successfully delivered positive camp experience in 2021. I now know that I can do this. There is a silver lining to all of the headaches. I have recaptured the value of camp. I know my camp's reason to exist. And, I need to keep this purpose in front of me so that I can make decisions.

“Where focus goes, energy flows.” — Tony Robbins

Set Intent on Staffing

I would never fly if all I got to experience was nonstop turbulence. Where is the fun in that?! I also can’t live another summer in “crisis mode” like the past one. This state of being was to some extent necessary for 2020 and 2021; however, moving forward, I can minimize the time and energy focusing on the pandemic. This will allow me, instead, to expend what is necessary to reclaim my vision and focus on what is important for the upcoming camp season. Both are critical to moving forward. 

I  know that I need to develop a plan to prepare for the inevitable and possibly unpredictable turbulence ahead. Summer 2022 will have its own trials and tribulations, and I must set my intent now to focus on staff. I was short staffed, and the ones I had were mostly new (and young). I even lost a few staff who didn’t make it to the end of the season. It is imperative that I make a plan now to rebuild my staff team. Without staff, camp cannot survive, yet alone thrive. 

First, I need to reflect on my staff culture when it is at its best and also consider the challenges. Some questions come to mind. How do I engage with staff now that the summer is over? Where do I attract possible staff for 2022? Who am I looking for? Who do I really need to be with the campers? I know this is more than just swim instructors, artists, and tennis coaches. Staff recruitment isn’t just based on what positions are open; it is important to hire for the right attitude and alignment with core values. I may need to rethink my usual strategies! 

A benefit to navigating the uncertainties of COVID were the networks formed to collaborate with other camps. It was awesome to feel like we were on the same team, supporting each other. There is no reason why we can’t put our heads together around the challenge of staffing in the months ahead. 

Develop a Plan

Another silver lining to the pandemic is that I can meet virtually with camp professionals literally around the globe. I reached out to a few camps last week and did some brainstorming around creating action steps for this time of year. This is the list we came up with so far to develop a plan that sets intent and purpose around staffing*:

  • Continue using the oxygen mask that works best so that self-care becomes a healthy habit (rest, family, friends, yoga, exercise, meditation, journaling, more rest . . . ).

  • Conduct a postseason inventory from the staff perspective (can add or subtract from this list).

  • Reflect on 2021 staff experience and work performance for each individual using the capable/willing model referenced here.

  • Conduct small focus groups with staff from the recent summer based on capable/willing “sorting” (especially with those staff who are willing, but not capable or capable, but not willing).

  • Ask new staff to consider ideas for the summer based on their experience (what worked, what helped them be successful, what do they wish would have happened, what would have been helpful, what would they do differently, etc.).

  • Reach out to staff who didn’t complete their contract to learn more from their trepidations now that there is some time and space in between the frustration and disappointment (and/or anger). 

  • Develop a plan for inviting staff back and securing their commitment for 2022 (remembering to include staff from 2019 or before), offering leadership roles and opportunities to advance and keeping staff engaged in the time between now and next summer. 

  • Contact each veteran staff member individually to share with them their capabilities and growth opportunities. The narrative should be about the staff member's impact on camp: "This is why camp needs you."

  • Draft compelling and accurate job descriptions. You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a great resource for this (See Company Culture blog and sample job description).

  • Cultivate a culture of safety around mental health support for staff. (See Lindsey Pollak’s blog on emotional wellness in the workplace and  ATT’s Wellness Program)

  • Participate in regional/local networking events (Camp Community Connections and others are listed HERE).

  • Register for ACA’s Virtual Staffing Summit (November 16–17).

I don’t know if I will be able to tackle everything on this list; however, it gives me a good jumping off point so that I am not “stuck” and going nowhere. 

As I put on my seatbelt and get ready for the long runway before liftoff to summer 2022,  I look around and see that it is a full flight. I will be traveling this route alongside some very dedicated and passionate camp pros with the destination of reclaiming purpose in order to recoup staff/camp culture. Bon voyage!

*Share Your Ideas Here

We would love to hear the list you and those you collaborate with come up with. Share to Reclaim Your Purpose Jamboard.

This blog was written on behalf of Project Real Job’s efforts to help camps recruit, hire, and retain staff.


Dare to Lead Podcast with Brene Brown and special guest Dr Amy Cuddy (September 13, 2021): 

Pandemic Flux Syndrome

Photo courtesy of Camp Romaca in Hinsdale, MA

Kim Aycock, MST, has several decades of experience developing young people with skills robots are unable to do. While blending the talents of a master teacher with the knowledge of a seasoned camp expert, Kim ignites the learning for varying levels of camp pros worldwide through her interactive & innovative presentations. Kim speaks at regional/national conferences, contributes regularly to Camping Magazine & ACA blogs, and serves as Co-Chair of ACA’s Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee.

Jolly Corley, MS, has worked the past 20 years developing dynamic, thoughtful workplace culture, especially at camp. Jolly’s passion is helping others cultivate their purpose. Using games, theatre & life experiences she prepares staff to understand that our own experiences are the most useful tools for reflection & growth to a solid foundation in becoming leaders for life. Jolly collaborates with organizations nationwide to present ideas & actions that promote personal & professional growth.