Benefits-Based Staffing

Recruiting and retaining quality seasonal and part-time staff can be a daunting task for any recreation provider. Because programmers are usually focused on providing services to the outside community, seasonal and part-time staff typically have limited opportunities to grow and develop.

In order to remain competitive with other employers--who many times pay higher wages--recreation agencies must begin maximizing and marketing the impact of their seasonal and part-time staffing programs, one of the larger teen programs many agencies operate.

For this reason, a Benefits-Based Programming strategy can be applied to part-time staff, like lifeguards, camp counselors, program leaders and desk attendants. The results of these efforts can be used to market the benefits of the service to the community, and recruit future high-quality employees.

This outcome-oriented approach focuses on a target group to produce identified benefits for participants who can address a community issue. Originally developed for youth in at-risk environments, the premise of Benefits-Based Programming is that the potential exists in recreation programs to address significant issues and create specific outcomes. J. R. Rossman and B. E. Schlatter describe the programming model with four phases.

Phase 1--Target Issues

The first phase involves identifying a major issue or problem and selecting preferred outcomes. These outcomes for seasonal or part-time staff may include the development of leadership skills, ethics and responsibility, or the enhanced awareness of related careers. This is accomplished by increasing the value of the individual’s work experience through cross-training in other areas of operation or providing additional training for a future position.

Phase 2--Activity Components

Activity components are implemented by writing performance objectives, identifying specific activities and procedures (daily or weekly), processing the activities and monitoring the achievement of activity objectives. The writing performance objectives identify observable outcomes. Then specific activities and procedures are identified to facilitate the achievement of the goals.

For a lifeguard, one specific activity is in-service training, with components to achieve the target goal. In developing future leaders, in-service sessions should include leadership training for staff members. For facility desk attendants, encouraging social interaction and learning customer-service skills can have a long-term impact on the individual, and improve the overall sense of community within the organization.

Once activity components are developed, the manager determines how to implement the changes into the existing employee training and review system. The facilitation and processing of activities are essential to effective Benefits-Based Programming. The mentor’s role is to process these work activities, and recognize individual teachable moments to maximize the long-term impact on the individual. Holding debriefing meetings with the staff after its shift or training session is an effective way to facilitate this process. Members should note successes and problems, and make needed changes to the program.

Benefits-Based Programming has two important contingencies. First, the system is manager-dependent, that is, the role of facilitation is taken on by the full-time staff supervisor but can be assisted by part-time supervisors. In order for this system to maximize the impact, it is essential to recruit qualified staff members who want to be a part of the program. Pre-work training (orientation) and on-the-job training can determine if an individual can perform basic job responsibilities. The supervisor can then move to mentoring, spending less time with task management.

Phase 3--Benefit Outcomes

The second contingency is that the impact of the first phase outcomes must be measurable. During the third phase, benefit outcomes, the mentor summarizes the achievement of target goals through a comprehensive evaluation, which may include a pre/post evaluative format. The pre-test should be administered to the staff prior to employment. At the end of the employment or season, staff should receive the post-test. Measuring progress toward set goals should also be part of regular employee evaluations. This requires the staff member to be an active part of his or her evaluation, ensuring the use of a reliable scale. The key to evaluation is the development of quality, appropriate objectives, ensuring the development of desired, positive results.

Phase 4--Benefits-Based Awareness

The final phase is Benefits-Based Awareness. Successes are communicated to the community and administration through an effective marketing effort that may include seasonal and annual reports, speaking engagements and news releases. This process is a recruiting tool, as well as a marketing point for the agency, and further demonstrates the benefits of working for the department.

Seasonal and part-time staffing programs have the potential to be one of a recreation department’s most effective services. To have the greatest impact, however, a reliable system must be applied. By adapting the Benefits-Based Programming Model into a Benefits-Based Staffing Model, current staff and former employees can articulate the benefits of returning to the agency year after year, as well as to be ambassadors for the agency, long after they have worked for the organization. Some of the current part-time and seasonal staff may be the future recreation professionals. When used effectively, mentoring, evaluation, and marketing can enhance an existing seasonal and part-time employment program, and contribute to the holistic growth and development of the entire community.


Rossman, J. R., and B. E. Schlatter. Recreation programming: Designing leisure experiences. Champaign, Illinois: Sagamore Publishing, 2003.

Matthew Griffith is the pool operator for Georgia Institute of Technology. He has an extensive aquatics background managing municipal, private, school district and university programs. As an instructor, Griffith has taught CPO courses around the country, as well as holding numerous other certifications in pool operations and service. He can be reached via e-mail at

Joseph Walker is an assistant professor of recreation at the University of North Texas. His recreation background includes aquatics, community/special event programming, facility operations/development, staff management and comprehensive planning. He can be reached via e-mail at