Promoting a Culture of Appreciation

Kim Aycock, MST
May 2021
camp staff hugging

We all want to feel valued and appreciated. This is especially true in a job situation. We typically are motivated to do our best work when the folks on top notice our efforts and outcomes. In an ideal world, every camp director gives specific praise to each and every counselor and staff member. In a small camp environment, that might be doable. However, in most situations, it is not always logistically possible in a normal summer — let alone during a pandemic. Fortunately, there are no rules about who can show appreciation. Everyone needs it. Anyone can give it!

In fact, we can all play a role in promoting a culture of appreciation. Instead of waiting for the higher-ups to get the ball rolling, what if you and your fellow staff start showing appreciation and gratitude toward each other? What if you take it upon yourself to notice when someone is particularly helpful to a new staff member, does something without being asked, or goes above and beyond with their efforts? Being in the trenches with each other affords a unique perspective of the day-to-day struggles and triumphs that are witnessed firsthand.

I challenge you to become an appreciation detective. Be on the lookout for the little things your fellow staff (peers) do that make your job easier or your day better. Catch someone positively contributing to the camper experience, and then let them know what you observed. These seemingly small gestures can impact the camp community in a big way.

A bonus outcome of practicing this peer-to-peer appreciation is that doing so will model for your campers how they, too, can show appreciation toward each other and the adults taking care of them (you). There is nothing to lose in this venture and everything to gain.

Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Recognition

Kellie Wong, senior content marketing manager at Achievers, offers the following positive outcomes of recognizing another staff member’s skills, contributions, and/or efforts.

  • Enhances camp culture: Peer-to-peer recognition can establish a more collaborative, empathetic work environment. When you recognize fellow staff members, you help them feel appreciated and more confident. Peer-to-peer recognition strengthens connection among staff and creates a greater sense of belonging to the camp community. A culture of gratitude pushes out negativity and resentment.
  • Strengthens morale: Positive staff relationships are crucial to being happy for the long haul. Especially during times of crisis and ongoing changes due to the effects of COVID-19, peer recognition can help increase morale through the extension of support and appreciation given to each other on an everyday basis.
  • Improves performance: Peer recognition often yields a significant impact on performance and productivity. Seeing others recognized for effort and contributions serves as a model and can ignite a desire to “level up” one’s own performance.
  • Increases engagement: Recognition is a leading driver of engagement. With more peer-to-peer recognition comes increased motivation to deliver better experiences for campers and foster a positive staff culture  — a win-win for the entire camp community (Wong, 2021)!

Meaningful Recognition Is Not One-Size-Fits-All

Like me, you may have neglected to think about how all people may not prefer to be recognized in the same way. Appreciation is not cookie-cutter. It makes sense that showing appreciation in a way that is meaningful to the individual speaks directly to that person and shows a genuine effort is being made. An easy way to demonstrate this is to take a moment and think of ways you like to be appreciated that are free (there is no cost whatsoever).

For some of you, “free” appreciation may be a shout-out, a written note, an offer to help with something, time spent together, or a hug. Some of you might be thinking that you also like to receive something in hand as a form of recognition. For example, when a piece of chocolate, a Diet Coke, or an ice cream treat appears, that is a true sign that my efforts are being rewarded in a personal way.

You may have heard of author Gary Chapman’s book, The 5 Love Languages. Chapman, along with coauthor Paul White, also wrote The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, which details the ways in which individuals like to be shown appreciation. As indicated earlier, meaningful appreciation varies depending on the person. The five categories into which most appreciation falls are:

  • Words of affirmation
  • Quality time
  • Acts of service
  • Physical touch
  • Tangible gifts

We tend to recognize others in ways that are meaningful to us, but that may actually miss the mark for someone else. Having an understanding of the five categories allows for individualizing appreciation so that it is meaningful to the receiver.

Words of Affirmation

Words of affirmation communicate a positive message to another person through the use of words (Chapman & White, 2011). This can be:

  • Praise given for accomplishments: acknowledging a quality job or when expectations have been met or exceeded
  • Affirmation of character: focusing on the inherent person — who they are when no one is looking
  • Recognition of positive personality traits: focusing on someone’s strengths

It is important to note that there are varying ways to deliver words of affirmation that also affect how this type of appreciation will be received. Be mindful of how and where you pass along words of praise or thanks. Written communication is one way to consider expressing affirmation. Handwritten notes may make someone’s day because of the extra time it took to put words of gratitude on paper.

Some of your fellow staff members will prefer a personal message or one-on-one conversation. In this instance, you may catch them at the end of a class period or as you are heading to lunch to let them know you appreciated the unique way they taught the proper shooting stance in archery, for example. You could also leave a quick voicemail or record a video message that the recipient can view during a busy day, as time and camp cellphone policy allows.

Giving a shout-out to fellow staff members at a weekly meeting, during a meal, or at an all-camp assembly can be energizing and encouraging to those who prefer to have words of affirmation voiced publicly.

In any case, praise given as words of affirmation needs to be specific to be effective. Some examples of this for the varying types of praise are:

  • “Thanks for showing up early and making sure we had all of the supplies we needed for tie-dying today. Things ran more smoothly because of your forethought.”
  • “You are a really compassionate person. I saw the way you responded to the camper who was frustrated in swimming this afternoon. You genuinely tried to understand her perspective, and I am truly in awe of how you handled that.”
  • “I really admire that you are always optimistic. I can easily get discouraged or overwhelmed, but when I talk with you, I always leave with a more positive outlook on the work we are doing here at camp.”

Quality Time

Quality time means giving someone your focused attention (Chapman & White, 2011). Where words of affirmation refer to what you are saying to someone else, quality time is all about the listening aspect when in a conversation with another person. This is listening without distractions, multitasking, or interrupting. Having someone who is truly focused on the thoughts or feelings being communicated may be what some of your co-staff will need this summer. It may mean you make arrangements to meet someone before or after the camp day or at another convenient time when you can give the undivided attention you know this person needs and deserves.

Acts of Service

Providing assistance to a fellow staff member is a powerful expression of appreciation, especially to the individual whose primary appreciation language is acts of service (Chapman & White, 2011). This could mean showing up early to get the mats out for gymnastics, sticking around to help hang all the life jackets after free swim, or offering to put the campers to bed because you know your co-counselor has had a particularly rough day. Sometimes asking, “Is there anything I can do to make things easier for you?” or “How can I help?” is all it takes to demonstrate you care. For this group of fellow staff, actions speak louder than words.

Physical Touch

The final expression of appreciation that doesn’t cost any money according to Chapman and White is physical touch. However, this could potentially be misinterpreted in the camp setting if not translated correctly, so for our purposes, let’s rename this category “camp love.” Examples of this language of appreciation at camp in pre-COVID-19 times (and hopefully again soon) are a handshake, hug, fist bump, or high-five. Unless these are safe options within a designated cohort at your camp, this summer an air hug, a thumbs-up, or other gesture carried out while physically distanced may have to suffice.

Staff at Camp Robindel in New Hampshire have been known to do a “high-kick” to show their appreciation or gratitude to one another. What will your camp trademark be to show “love” this summer?

Tangible Gifts

Giving the right gift to a person who appreciates tangible rewards can send a powerful message of thanks, appreciation, and encouragement (Chapman & White, 2011). And giving a gift to make someone feel special does not have to break the bank. I know of camps that challenge their staff to stick to a budget of $2 or less when purchasing items to show appreciation for coworkers.

You may have to get creative this summer to pull off a tangible gift, as leaving camp may be difficult or prohibited (for overnight camps) given COVID-19 protocol. And those of you who enter and exit camp daily may need to avoid public places at night or on weekends for the safety of the community. Taking advantage of what is available in your camp store/canteen or making a friendship bracelet or other camp craft can show your appreciation in a very thoughtful and meaningful way.

How To Kickstart Peer-to-Peer Recognition

You might be thinking, “This is all well and good, but how am I supposed to know what type of appreciation each individual prefers?” Great question! During staff training is the perfect time to gather that information. If your camp director doesn’t have an activity that allows you to collect appreciation preferences, ask for one. It can be as simple as giving each staff member a form to fill out. Forms can then be gathered and kept in a binder in a central location for all to reference throughout the summer.

Gathering the Info: Envelopes of Appreciation

Give each person a 6x9-inch clasp envelope. After putting their name at the top, each person jots down how they like to be appreciated in ways that are free on the left side of the envelope. This allows for suggestions for tangible gifts (that are under a designated dollar amount) to be captured on the right side. The envelopes can then be hung in the staff lounge or other staff-only area. The envelopes become mailboxes for writing notes of gratitude, a place to check for ideas on other ways to express appreciation that don’t have a price tag attached, or to see what small tokens of appreciation can be bought or made that don’t cost and arm and a leg.

Recognition for the Greater Camp Community

A lot of dedicated people work behind the scenes to make camp possible. It really does take a village to keep the magic of camp going strong day after day, week after week. This is true in normal summers, and especially during a pandemic. Be sure to take some time to look around and notice all the people who are not necessarily on the front line but are working tirelessly in other areas.

You will find these amazing people in the kitchen prepping, cooking, and serving meals. They will be in the health center attending to the camp community’s physical, mental, and emotional needs. You will notice them out and about taking care of the grounds, maintaining facilities, and setting up for various program activities. They will be handling communication with parents, vendors, alumni, and other stakeholders. You might find them making trips into town to pick up supplies or take someone to the doctor. Or behind the lens of a camera taking photos and videos to post on social media or create a winter marketing campaign.

Find out how they like to be recognized for their efforts and contributions. Ask them to join you this summer as you build a culture of gratitude. Heck, while you’re at it, get the campers involved too. There are no rules on who can show appreciation. Everyone needs it. Anyone can give it!

Discussion Questions

  1. What is one benefit of peer-to-peer recognition?
  2. What are three ways to show appreciation to a fellow staff member that do not require spending any money?
  3. In order to be sure that every person is included when implementing peer-to-peer recognition, brainstorm a list of the different subsets of staff who are part of your camp community.

Photo courtesy of Kamp Kohut, Oxford, ME

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 campers and staff worldwide. She has the ability to connect with and motivate learners of all ages through her interactive and innovative presentations (both in-person and virtually). Kim speaks professionally at regional and national conferences, contributes regularly to Camping Magazine and ACA blogs, and serves as co-chair of ACA’s Staff Recruitment and Retention Committee. More information can be found at kimaycock.com.

References

Chapman, G. & White, P. (2011). The 5 languages of appreciation in the workplace: Empowering organizations by encouraging people. Chicago, IL: Northfield Publishing.

Wong, K. (2020, September 24). Twelve best practices for peer-to-peer recognition. Achievers Workforce Institute. Retrieved from achievers.com/blog/peer-to-peer-recognition/


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