HR | Atlantic - Positive Change at Work

Lessons from Summer Camp #1

Aug 10, 2011

One of the wonders of parenthood is that we are constantly reminded that we still have much to learn ourselves, and that we can learn this through our children, and our shared experiences with them.  Some of these lessons have ready application to the workplace:

Lesson 1: Bells & Whistles cannot win out over the right environment

Over the past few summers, my daughters have attended a wonderful summer camp program that has invested heavily in the equipment and apparatus for active, adventurous outdoor fun.  From archery butts, a ropes course, and MBX bike course, swimming pool (in addition to its location on the beach), a climbing wall:  these were the types of things I wish I had access to when I went to camp as a child.  The daily schedule of activities is chock-a-block full from morning until well into the night (with flashlight tag) — everything to keep the kids active and involved (and presumably out of mischief).  Despite the fact that this was the camp environment of my dreams, this wasn’t what my children were particularly interested in.  They had interests in the more traditional camp activities, crafts, newspaper, etc.   Who knew?

This summer one of my children was invited by a friend to attend a different camp with her.    It was much smaller, quieter camp without some of the extras  available at her usual camp; nevertheless, my daughter said if she had to choose which camp to attend again, she would choose this smaller camp.  While still a structured day, there was more time for campers to rest and relax between activities.  The culture of this smaller camp was a better fit for her –despite the lack of the Wow factor.

This doesn’t mean that the bells & whistle camp is a bad camp — in fact, it is a great one, designed for high energy, go-go-go kids — but that’s not for everyone.  Adding more equipment and activities wouldn’t have made it a better place for my youngest child.  It was the culture that was the deciding factor.  This is a lesson to be learned for our adult organizations, particularly in terms of what engages our employees.

When we look at employee engagement, we need to avoid urge to buy the latest IT gadgets, or assume that additional workplace benefits will improve things.  Instead, we must first consider whether the workplace environment and culture allows our employees to thrive.  Do they need more or less structure? Do they need more or less time for peer interaction?  Do they need quiet time to process, or mental stimulation?  What is the culture that works for you?  What is the work culture that works for your employees?  They may not be the same.

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