If you want to know how your staff members are experiencing camp, ask them.

If you want to know when and how much they feel supported, ask them.

If you want to know when and how much they feel valued, ASK THEM.

Let’s be real. Your staff are the only ones with the answers to these questions, so if you want to know the answers . . . ask them. To appreciate the value of asking these tough questions, remember that their perception is their reality. To be clear, I know you already know this: You are an expert in the camping field — particularly, at your specific camp. I’m here to make a case as to why you should move the leadership strategy of eliciting staff feedback up on your list of priorities to set staff up for success (and more importantly, what you’re missing out on if you don’t).  

My research, which stems from ten summers working at camp along with ongoing research in workplace psychology, is focused on the camp staff experience. Examples of what I am learning:

  • How staff members feel when they see others getting recognized while they themselves are not recognized.
  • What motivates staff (and competes with the decision) to work at camp and gets them to commit to being enthusiastic toward their work.
  • Which supervisor skills staff say need to be strongest this summer to increase the likelihood that they (the staff) will return to camp next summer.

The goal of these efforts has been to understand the staff experience at camp-by-camp and global levels through hearing directly from staff. This is a listening tactic well justified after learning that, as you can probably guess, supervisors don’t always know what actually would drive staff to do their best work.

After ten summers of working at camp — as a staff member, unit supervisor, and in a director-level position — I know those magical moments when you provide the support and resources you think staff want/need and your staff members deliver; things are in sync, camp is groovin’, and you want to make sure it continues. I also know the frustration when you provide the support and resources you think staff want/need and your staff members don’t show up in the ways you need them to. The first step in either case, be it trying to maintain or change responses by staff, is to figure out the reasons for their behavior. You get to that point by asking. Only then will you have the information you need to respond.

This and the upcoming blog posts in this series support Project Real Job efforts and are in response to two loud-and-clear pieces of staff feedback heard across numerous camps: “I want/need camp to be a more professional experience in order to work here,” and “I want to feel more valued and acknowledged by my supervisor.” Stay tuned!

Daniel Shore is a researcher and consultant with an MA (and now finishing his PhD) in workplace psychology. He conducts research across numerous settings, from cybersecurity teams to summer camps, and turns data into action by (1) facilitating training experiences, (2) conducting feedback focus groups, and (3) creating professional development and training curricula. In the camp world, Daniel combines his ten summers of experience as a staff member, unit supervisor, and director of staff and leadership development with his research expertise to help camps strategically train staff to enhance the camp staff experience. Daniel is looking to work with camp leaders who believe what he believes: to have a great camp with happy campers, you need happy counselors.

Feel free to email Daniel with any thoughts, questions, or interest in being a partner through research and training workshops at dshore@gmu.edu.

Learn more about Project Real Job.

Photo courtesy of Camp Howe in Goshen, Massachusetts