From Seasonal To Sensational

By John Meldrum

For many in the industry, summer is the busy season and, in turn, the time to add more seasonal or temporary employees.


From park-maintenance staff to day-camp leaders, parks and facilities can add a fresh perspective by tapping this valuable resource. But how does one manage these employees to maximize the return as well as their experience?

Traditionally, many staff leaders have felt the seasonal workforce needs to be closely supervised and given little responsibility or freedom; others view these employees as being more work than they are worth. On the contrary, a seasonal workforce can add new energy and creativity, and contribute productively while providing customers with outstanding service--if the right environment is created.

Experience has shown that regardless of whether an employee is seasonal or full-time, those who are truly committed are more likely to go above and beyond the required tasks and deliver higher levels of customer service than those members who are likely to be late or absent, or call in sick.

Those leaders who hire the same employees year after year reap additional benefits. For instance, dedicated employees will feel more compelled to say good things about an organization, helping to bolster the agency’s overall reputation. Additionally, those who return to the same position eventually take less time and resources to train while being more effective in their roles.

So how does one create an environment in which commitment is more likely to be developed and maintained?

There are five key commitment-building approaches:

• Provide support

• Build trust

• Give responsibility

• Recognize effort

• Give respect.

Provide Support
When employees perceive a sense of support from their work group (including the manager), they tend to be more pleased with their experience and make a considerable commitment. This support may include hearing compliments from superiors, participating in a mentoring activity, or simply receiving hands-on assistance.

Early on, the employee needs to see that a manager’s role is not to check up on him or her but to help get the job done and done well. The employee should have the training, tools, and basic skills to complete the job so that his or her needs are addressed. Spending time initially pays dividends in the long run--even for those who may only be employed for a few weeks.

Build Trust
The following comment from a summer-camp employee provides some real insight: “One of the key things is trust. It is important to trust someone before you become committed to the place or the job. Some people say, ‘I just go in and do my job,’ but trust in the sense that when they tell you something they mean it. Definitely the people I was closest with are ones that I did trust. I felt my leader did care about me and my work, so that’s definitely important.”

Trust is effectively built from a manager’s words, but even more from one’s behavior. After having been provided the support and tools to get the job done, the employee can be trusted to do what the job requires.


Give Responsibility
A trusting environment allows an employee or a group of employees to have ownership and autonomy over their work. Assigning additional responsibilities can increase the challenge, as well as the sense of accomplishment an employee feels. This also contributes to his or her ongoing commitment.

For example, once maintenance-staff members understand the standards and have the skills to do the job, they can decide the best way to manage the workflow, to delegate tasks, and to develop operating procedures. This approach also may result in more innovative and effective ways of getting the job done.

Recognize Effort
Providing regular and authentic recognition of an employee’s efforts is critical to building commitment; conversely, a lack of recognition may chip away at whatever commitment does exist.

A manager should take the time to learn something about each employee, as this can go a long way in effectively recognizing someone. Knowing what is perceived as important or meaningful helps get the most from each person.

Give Respect
The final piece of the puzzle is creating an environment of respect--for the job, customers, and employees. It is important to show seasonal employees that all roles are critical to delivering quality service.

Creating an environment where there are two classes of employees--year-long and seasonal--should be avoided. When possible, seasonal employees can be invited to events, receive information, and in general treated as important contributors to the organization.

Managers need to also be aware of how their words and actions can impact an environment of respect. It is impossible to expect commitment from employees who hear “off-the-cuff” negative comments from a manager about his or her own job, the organization, or customers. Managers must walk the talk!

While these directives may seem like common sense, they are not often common practices. Implementation is important to successfully build commitment.

A manager should provide extensive orientations for new employees. This time can be used to help establish expectations, to explore the new employee’s expectations and interests, and to link those interests to the job.

With a little planning and some work, more engaged and committed employees can be created each year.

John Meldrum, Ph.D., M.B.A., is a faculty member in the School of Exercise Science, Physical and Health Education at the University of Victoria (Canada), and regularly speaks and consults with groups and organizations on leisure and management issues. He can be contacted at