Tim Bobko

After 15+ years in the aquatics industry (early in my career), I found myself interviewing, hiring and training — then doing it all over again in four to six months. Yes, there are a few loyal staff members who stay a year or two, but for the most part, people want summer jobs or jobs during the school semester. I always believed part of our employee retention, or lack thereof, was due to our city’s low lifeguard pay.

What I had not considered was how to promote our positions to keep staff returning every year. That’s where our Think Tank came in. Composed of full-time aquatic staff, aquatic management, lifeguards and non-lifesaving staff, it met at least twice monthly and came up with ideas — for programs, for ways to make the facility better, to thank guards and show them that they’re appreciated. In short, ideas for just about anything for the facility. This was an open tank: Nothing was off the table. It was an opportunity for staff to express ideas and feel comfortable doing it.

It proved to be a revelation because I learned that the reasons I thought staff was leaving weren’t true. Through this process, I discovered that people wanted a voice and to be busy; an opportunity to grow and learn all the skills to run the three-pool aquatic center; they wanted to feel appreciated; and, of course, more pay — but that was at the bottom of the list and not something we had much control over.

So I went to work. We designed a new logo/brand and Blue Bell Aquatic Center became known as BBAC. We are the BBAC staff and we’re one team. We work toward one goal — to provide a safe, fun place for visitors. New staff shirts were made, and the community recognizes our logo. In short, we branded ourselves. Because we didn’t have much control over the pay scale, we were able to propose and implement a yearly raise for returning staffers.

Once requested and worked into the budget, we were able to provide staff uniforms. During hot summer months, we provided ice pops from our concession for the entire staff, and you would’ve thought I gave them all promotions! Ice pops that we can buy in bulk provided a free, frozen treat — the staff loved it.

We’ve also started promoting and recruiting staffers to join our BBAC Team, and have worked hard to cross-train everyone who’s interested, so they can work in many positions, as lifeguards; swim instructors; or front gate, front desk, party host or concessions operators. And we implemented fun Program days, using staffers’ ideas for activities, thus giving them more responsibilities.

By cross-training and teaching people all the jobs and responsibilities, it’s assisted in staff retention. When I first started, we had a turnover rate yearly. And, yes, we still have a turnover rate yearly, but returning staff turns over every four to six years, allowing for longer retention.


1 Brand yourself. Get staffers involved in the process. This gives them buy-in, and the more they buy in, the more they “sell” your facility, encouraging others to work there.

2 Think creatively. We can’t always change pay rates, but we can think outside the box for other ways to thank our staffs and provide “bonuses,” such as yearly increases, uniforms, snacks, even discounts.

3 Enable the staff. By cross-training most staffers, we usually have consistent coverage. And they won’t become bored doing the same thing every day. It’s cut down on how many people we hire and helped keep them longer, teaching them multiple skills for the future.