Right now, camp directors like you are faced with making big decisions about how camp will operate in the 2020 season. Undoubtedly, you are anticipating the logistical challenges you’ll need to address, creating contingency plans for different scenarios, and putting tremendous care into how you communicate with your camp families. It may feel like there’s no time to focus on how to support your summer camp staff during COVID-19.
Yet, particularly in times of crisis, it’s critical to create an environment of emotional support for your team. Helping staff members feel safe and supported on all levels will strengthen their ability to work effectively and deepen their sense of trust and connection with you as their employer. This creates a level of loyalty and engagement that will benefit your team members, your camp, and your campers for years to come: a true win-win-win.
But, where do you start?
The good news is that creating a supportive environment is something that any leader can do – and it doesn’t take complicated policies or expensive benefits to do it. When we emerge from this crisis, your employees will remember a few simple things: how you communicated, how much you cared, and what you prioritized when times got tough. With that in mind, here are some approaches you can take to support your staff during the COVID-19 crisis.
Communicate Openly and Often with Camp Staff During COVID-19
Many people are struggling with unprecedented stressors like financial insecurity, fears for their safety and families’ safety, and even the loss of friends and family members. As an employer, it can be tempting to think you should shield your staff from anxiety-provoking news about your camp’s situation so that you don’t add to their stress.
But, for your staff, the feeling of being in the dark is much more stressful than knowing the facts. People can sense when they’re not getting the full story, and withholding information will make you less credible and trustworthy in their eyes. It’s that loss of trust that will make your team members feel unsafe – not the facts themselves.
Depending on your camp’s situation, you might be making tough decisions and possibly delivering disappointing news. If you’re in this position, resist the urge to put a positive spin on things or shield people from the full truth. Instead, state the facts in a clear and straightforward way, taking care to explain how your camp’s values informed your decisions or approach. Allow team members to express the range of emotions they may be feeling in response to those decisions or updates, without trying to “fix” what they’re feeling. And, make sure to model openness by being vulnerable yourself. Your employees want to know you’re human!
Regardless of whether you have updates to share, it’s important to make yourself highly visible and communicate frequently with your staff throughout this crisis. In the absence of information, people tend to jump to the scariest possible conclusion about what’s going on; it’s how the human brain works. Create a consistent communication rhythm and share updates regularly (we suggest weekly), even if you’re simply repeating and affirming the information you’ve already shared.
A simple and effective model to support camp staff during COVID-19 is:
“Here’s what we know…”
“Here’s what we don’t know…”
“Here’s what actions we’re taking (or continuing to take)…”
Make yourself available to your team members one-on-one too. Reach out to people to express your empathy and compassion. There’s no need to promise that you can solve everything. Small gestures – like a quick call to ask how they’re doing or a note saying you are thinking of them – can go a long way.
Recognize and Address the Challenges of Working Remotely
Effective leaders recognize that there’s a difference between what they say and what their audience hears. This is always true, but the potential for confusion is amplified by the chaos that accompanies a crisis and the dynamics of communicating remotely. Because of the potential for confusion, leaders should make an effort to be extra clear in their communication with staff. If you can, try sharing a written draft or practicing with a trusted party (a colleague or even your spouse) and ask them to give you feedback on any parts that weren’t a hundred percent clear or had the potential to be misinterpreted, then adjust accordingly.
Keep in mind too, that communicating by phone or video call removes some opportunity for immediate visual cues. When we’re in the same room as our audience, we pick up on nuances like subtle shifts in facial expressions and demeanor. That becomes more difficult on even the most high-definition video call. This means that you need to take proactive steps to understand how your communication is being received. While speaking, pause often to ask your team members for their feedback and questions. Or, simply stop talking, and let someone else chime in.
Supporting your staff as they work from home means you recognizing that they are now trying to be productive while tending to family, children, pets, and other home responsibilities. You can’t make this challenge disappear, but you can acknowledge it by reaching out and letting your team know that you understand this difficulty and that they have your support. Talk to your team members one-on-one to find out if there’s any way you can help ease work-related stress. Some examples might be scaling your expectations for what they’re able to accomplish during this time or working with them to create a more flexible schedule.
In addition, people might be working longer hours to meet urgent business needs. You can also encourage your team to take time away from work, even if it’s just an hour a week for a “clarity break.” Everyone needs to decompress, especially so during stressful times. Help your team members avoid burnout by encouraging them to physically, emotionally, and mentally recharge — and model this behavior by doing so yourself!
Everyone needs to decompress, especially so during stressful times. Help your team members avoid burnout by encouraging them to physically, emotionally, and mentally recharge — and model this behavior by doing so yourself!
Support Camp Staff During COVID-19 by Maintaining Connections and Encouraging Feedback
During times of crisis, try to maintain your regular meeting schedule to help team members stay connected and informed. If you have access to a video conferencing tool like Google Hangouts or Zoom, leverage these tools to hold virtual all-staff meetings, as well as virtual one-on-one meetings with your direct reports. Virtual meetings can feel a bit impersonal to those who are used to meeting face-to-face, so try starting your meetings with a quick check-in where each team member shares how they’re feeling or a “personal best” from the week. It’s also a good time to lean in to the familiarity of rituals and traditions – or perhaps take the opportunity to start new ones by incorporating fun challenges or games, a quick meditation, or an online version of a favorite camp activity into your staff meetings.
Getting feedback as you go is a way to help your team members feel empowered during a crisis. Hold brainstorming sessions to collect your team members’ ideas and gather feedback by conducting an internal survey. Survey results can help you understand what’s working and what needs improvement, so you can adjust your approach. Google Forms is a free survey tool you can use, and Culture Amp is providing free resources right now, like sample survey questions, that are specific to the COVID-19 crisis.
Encourage Team Members to Express Their Needs
People may be feeling all kinds of emotions in response to this crisis: fear, anger, sadness, or numbness. Not everyone is comfortable sharing their feelings openly at work, but as a leader, you can proactively remind team members that their emotions are normal and valid. Hearing this kind of acknowledgement from a trusted leader can inspire your staff to work through their feelings, rather than resisting them. Encourage team members to process emotions productively, whether it’s exercising, starting a mindfulness practice, or seeking professional support if needed.
According to the BICEPS framework, people require Belonging, Improvement, Choice, Equality, Predictability, and Significance in order to feel safe and secure at work. Connect with your team members individually to identify what needs aren’t being met during this crisis and work together to implement small changes. For example, someone’s need for predictability might be threatened right now. In this case, you might be able to create predictability in small ways, such as encouraging them to create some consistent daily rituals or setting up a weekly check-in that always happens at the same time. You don’t have control over what’s happening in the world, but you can take small steps to help your team members regain a basic sense of safety within the context of their work lives.
Provide Stability in Unstable Times
There are a lot of resources out there aimed at helping leaders lead effectively during this crisis — so many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming to sort through and find useful information.
In addition to the suggestions in this blog post, a few related resources we have found particularly helpful during this time include:
Emotionally supportive work environments cultivate trust through transparency, make it safe for people to express themselves openly, and offer resources to support employees’ emotional needs. As you do this work, remind yourself that, as a camp director, you inherently understand how to create a nurturing and supportive culture – that’s what camp is, after all – and are therefore especially well-positioned to lead others during times of crisis. Your employees don’t require perfection; just commitment. If there are any specific ways that CampMinder can help you support camp staff during COVID-19, don’t hesitate to reach out to us.