Does this ring a bell? It’s late August; staff are dropping like flies. You’re trying to get through the last ten days of the season, safely. For your own health, you finally leave work, but bring home the schedule. After filling ten more key shifts, you go to bed sometime around midnight.

You can do this for only so long. How do you stop the cycle? It begins with creative thinking. If you are suffering from the lifeguarding shortage afflicting the industry, maybe this will generate some inspiration.

Our staff began with observations. A past manager turned a half-hour lunch break into an automatic-pay-deduction. If someone didn’t take lunch, they had to report it to get the deduction removed. This policy seemed illogical. First, if someone had to go on lunch break during their rotation break, it brought down morale. Second, if you took a lifeguard out of rotation to eat lunch, you had to replace them with another guard to ensure surveillance. Shifts were created just to cover lunch and dinner breaks.

We have six lifeguarded facilities. The smallest had two lifeguards at any given time. The largest had 11. During peak hours, we had a maximum of 44 lifeguards on duty, spread out over hundreds of acres. There were over 400 shifts to fill each week.

We abolished the lunch deduction and moved rotations to a half hour, at every facility. Guards could eat during one of three rotation breaks. Feedback has been positive, less staff is needed and money has been saved.

Then we looked at programming. Notchville Park was open for recreation from 11 a.m.–8 p.m. for the beginning of the summer, and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. for the end. In addition, there were swim lessons from 8:15-9:45 a.m. It was a terrible location for swim lessons, as it was located in the woods on the edge of the resort village.

We moved the swim lessons to a central facility that normally opened at 10 a.m. and set Notchville’s hours to 11 a.m.-7 p.m. for the entire summer. Less staff needed, more dollars saved.

The summer 2015 schedule had 417 shifts to fill each week. We were at least twenty lifeguards short all summer. This summer, we have 302 shifts, and the same amount of staff as last season. But this time, the ugly blank schedule holes do not exist. Can your team pull this off? Yes.

The Lessons

1. Get help from your team. You have to look at everything from your hiring pool and payroll budget to state and federal laws. If you do this by yourself, you’ll miss something vital.

2. Create a map of your current schedule based on shifts’ beginning and end times. Compare that map to zone diagrams. Make sure you can cover the key positions. Consider other factors that may require additional coverage such as peak hours, time of year, and special events. Add additional coverage to the schedule map and mark it on the diagrams. Do you have at least one guard on break from rotation at all times? Fantastic. Mark that in the guard break area on your diagram. This is what you need to create your base schedule. As you add shifts, mark them on the map and diagram.

3. Don’t just think outside the box. Throw out the box and build a new one. Create your dream schedule and be prepared to explain its benefits. And when you’re done, make sure it follows all codes and laws. Each state is different. No solution is one size fits all.

Tara Snow is aquatics assistant manager at Smugglers’ Notch Resort. She is a lifeguard instructor and Certified Pool Operator. Snow is responsible for hiring, training and managing a staff of 20 to 100 aquatics professionals, depending on the season.