Getting Through the Staffing Season

Written By: Sandy Delton
Hawk Lake Lodge, Kenora
Originally Published in the June 1992
issue of The Outfitter Magazine.


Since buying into the camp business I no longer mark my time by counting birthdays and holidays, but by “camp season”. Having just completed the sport show season, we are now entering the season of dreaded “staff training”. I find myself wishing I had raised 10 children to become mature, responsible adults whose only goal in life was to work at my camp and do everything MY WAY. Having been informed time and time again by my only child that there are other things in life not related to the tourist business, I have had to rely on more widely accepted methods of staffing.

I thought having good staff just meant finding enough people who wanted the job, pay them a fair wage, give them a job description, a name tag and the season of entertaining guests could begin. I could not have been more wrong. When the ten people I had hired in March showed up in May as nine and the first words out of the more intelligent beings mouth was “Hi woman”, I knew I was in trouble. I had to find a way to stay ahead of the pack and leaving my camp and my husband was not an option. Having made the commitment to enjoy the good life, I was not going to let nine overgrown children do me in so easily.

My first panic call was made to the other camp owners enjoying the good life only to find out that no one had all the answers and that what works for one staff doesn’t always work for the next. My second call was to the local government people hired to help people like me. They are educated but let’s face it - my staffing needs, and requirements are not the same as Boise Cascade and these people just don’t understand that camp work is based on a seven day week, not the normal five.

We are now entering our seventh season and even though each new staff brings its own problems, we have been able to develop some guidelines that help to keep us not only sane but prepared. The most important lesson we have learned is that the better prepared we are the better our staff turns out to be. (At this point I should apologize to our first year staff - it wasn’t your fault, but ours.)

Our first step was to develop a staff manual. It is not only a list of “can” and “can’t” do’s (i.e. no alcohol, curfew etc…) but opens with a management statement that explains how important each staff person is to the success of our camp. We try to instill a sense that our guests are their guests. We do our very best to give each person a chance to take pride in their position and their work. We set guidelines and expectations and give each person the chance to meet them. We try to let each member of our staff know that the success of the season depends not on our hard work and commitment but actually hinges on their attitude and job performance.

Job performance. It is difficult to perform if one doesn’t know the job. Job descriptions are a must. We are constantly redoing ours to fit the employee. The job hasn’t changed much in the last seven years but the employee has. We start with a base description and vary it depending on the employee’s level of ability. If we have a waitress that is an excellent employee but needs a cigarette every 30 minutes, we actually write her a cigarette break into the job description. It is better to have her feel that she has completed a certain number of tasks and earned the break, when you know she is going to take it anyway.

A word of caution on job descriptions - always leave yourself an opening. The last line on the description should read “and anything else that needs doing” to avoid the employee who insists on telling you that it wasn’t in his list to wake up that morning. Your guests are most important but without a well trained, highly motivated staff you will have unhappy guests.

Stay tuned to your employees needs. Stress can be a big problem in our fast paced, long hours, short season part of the world. Most of us work closely with our employees so it is easy to see when someone is becoming stressed out. Discuss the problem right away before it begins to affect their work and attitudes of your other staff. When they start complaining about the food, rather than telling them how good the food is, serve them pizza for breakfast, or better still, ask them to plan breakfast for the week. Anything to break the routine.

Perhaps the most important fact we have to remember is that the staff is not all that different from us. They store their beer in the toilet tank while ours is in the fridge, but they get just as tired of the fishing questions as we do. Just as tired of smiling all the time as we do and just as anxious for the season to both start and end as we do. The season of “staff training” has become less dreadful and almost an enjoyable challenge now that we feel prepared. Well, almost. This year’s staff is due here in three days. I guess we shall see. 

(The Chair of the NOTO Women’s Committee is Janice Bowden, Red Pine Wilderness Lodge, Haileybury, (519) 576-4314)


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