Administrative Staff Supervision

10 Reasons Your Staff Won’t Be Returning Next Summer

Recently I came across an article titled 10 Reasons Your Top Talent Will Leave You. As directors we all want our best staff to return the following summer and we want our year round superstars to continue working for our camp for years to come. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always happen. One of the biggest reasons for that is the lack of good leadership.

Below is the list I took from the article I mentioned above. I did a little editing and added some comments to make it relevant for the summer camps.

The question I have for you is this…Are you failing your staff?

I know you don’t mean to, but sometimes we all need reminders and ideas (including myself, for sure) about how we can be better supervisors. For some reason, leadership in the workplace is not really taught. Some camps spend a lot of time putting together a leadership for campers program but dismiss good quality leadership and mentoring for their adult staff. Take a look at the list below ,and see if you can’t find a way to be a better leader/supervisor this summer.

1. You Failed To Unleash Their Passions

Smart camps align staff passions with camper’s interests. Human nature makes it very difficult to walk away from areas of passion. Fail to understand this and you’ll unknowingly be encouraging employees to seek their passions elsewhere.

If you find a counselor enjoys performing magic, create an “Intro to Magic” activity slot. If one of your ropes instructors really enjoys storytelling, suggest to them that they create a story to go along with each ropes course element.

2. You Failed To Challenge Their Intellect

Smart people don’t like to live in a dimly lit world of boredom. If you don’t challenge people’s minds, they’ll find a different job next summer.

3. You Failed To Engage Their Creativity

Great talent is wired to improve, enhance, and add value. They are built to change and innovate. They NEED to contribute by putting their fingerprints on design. Smart leaders don’t place people in boxes – they free them from boxes. What’s the use in having a racehorse if you don’t let them run?

Let your counselors and activity leaders create new ways to play games, new activities. Give them the opportunity to improve your camp’s systems and procedures. Hold a contest to encourage staff to be creative.

4. You Failed To Develop Their Skills

Leadership isn’t a destination – it’s a continuum. No matter how smart or talented a person is, there’s always room for growth, development, and continued maturation. If you place restrictions on a person’s ability to grow, they’ll leave you for someone who won’t.

Cross-train staff if you can. Allow your lifeguards to learn from your photographer. Let a counselor who’s interested in cooking spend a day in the kitchen.

Mid-season learning and motivation is wonderful. Create a workshop or two after the first few weeks of camp to give staff more tools to use with their campers. Have a roundtable discussion with your staff. Topics can include anything you covered during your initial staff training.

5. You Failed To Give Them A Voice

Talented people have good thoughts, ideas, insights, and observations. If you don’t listen to them, someone else will.

Make it clear that you have an open door policy. If anyone has something to say they can come to you. You can also put out a suggestion box. Go through the suggestions at least once per week.

6. You Failed To Care

Sure, people come to work for a paycheck, but that’s not the only reason. In fact, many studies show it’s not even the most important reason. If you fail to care about people at a human level, at an emotional level, they’ll eventually leave you regardless of how much you pay them.

Camp counselors get lost in the shuffle. Occasionally they just need a break or some advice. As a leader you are there to support them. Be aware of their needs and give them the support they require, whether that be an activity off to rest, a motivational word of encouragement, time to speak with you about an issue they are having, advice on how to handle a specific camper, etc. Check in on each staff member as much as you can.

7. You Failed to Lead

Organizations don’t fail, camps don’t fail, activities don’t fail, and camp staff don’t fail – leaders fail. The best testament to the value of leadership is what happens in its absence – very little. If you fail to lead, your talent will seek leadership elsewhere.


8. You Failed To Recognize Their Contributions

The best leaders don’t take credit – they give it. Failing to recognize the contributions of others is not only arrogant and disingenuous, it’s as also just as good as asking them to leave.

If a counselor suggests a new way of getting all the cabins to breakfast on time and it works, then give her credit at the next staff meeting. Better yet, let the parents know about her contribution in a newsletter.

9. You Failed to Increase Their Responsibility

You cannot confine talent – try to do so and you’ll either devolve into mediocrity, or force your talent seek more fertile ground. People will gladly accept a huge workload as long as an increase in responsibility comes along with the performance and execution of said workload.

Already have a waterfront director who isn’t planning on leaving anytime soon but you have a superstar waterfront activity leader? Why not create an Assistant Waterfront Director position with added responsibility?

10. You Failed To Keep Your Commitments

Promises made are worthless, but promises kept are invaluable. If you break trust with those you lead you will pay a very steep price. Leaders not accountable to their people, will eventually be held accountable by their people.

If leaders spent less time trying to retain people, and more time trying to understand them, care for them, invest in them, and lead them well, the retention thing would take care of itself.




  • This top 10 list makes a lot of sense! Having worked at a wide number of places, I can easily see how the few I desperately wanted to leave failed in multiple areas listed. I also find it interesting that the camps I loved to work with didn’t necessarily get all of these right…but had at least a majority going for them (or were at least trying really hard to make them happen).

  • I understand this both as a Leader and Director, but also as a Staff Member and subordinate. Especially number nine. In the past three years I have moved from a Program Area to a High Adventure Program because I was pushed to the side. And now I find myself becoming a Program Director at a different camp because I was pushed to the side and forgotten.

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