Photo by Eric Nurse

When it comes to prioritizing recruitment or retention, and where one should put most of their time and energy, retention should lead the way.

If one can have a seasonal employee return next season, the agency saves money in recruitment and initial training. More importantly, you save time in training, and you retain an employee who understands your agency, operation and culture. Those last three are priceless.

Let’s talk about the four pillars of retention: Mission statement and mission goals; years an employee stays with an agency; the employee’s development plan; and schedule of events for both the season and the off-season.

Mission Statement and Mission Goals

I’ve talked about the importance and power of the mission and how every aquatics department needs to have one. Now more than ever, employees need to know your department’s mission and how the work they do connects and contributes to it. People want to know that their effort makes a difference in their community.

A mission statement, when paired with an agency goal, becomes a powerful motivator. The agency goal needs to be realistic and achievable, propelling employees to push themselves. An example of achievable goal: Reduce the number of rescues by 25% through increased effort in preventative actions.

As part of the leadership team, it is imperative that we explain how each action an employee takes contributes to the agency’s goals and the greater good. We must remind employees of the mission and goal on a weekly basis, if not daily.

Years of Service

When looking at data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (accompanying table), it becomes apparent that lifeguards and swim instructors tend to remain at one place for a longer period of time than the average seasonal worker.

On average, 77% of seasonal employees leave before working a full year, compared with only 22% of lifeguards and swim instructors. Where 11% of seasonal workers will stay with a job for one to two years, 32% of lifeguards and swim instructors will.

We, as an industry, still need to extend those numbers to survive the national lifeguard shortage. We need a six-year plan that clearly defines each year of service, through an increase in job duties and responsibilities, skill acquisition in rescue readiness, interaction with the public, water safety, development in leadership, mentoring and soft skills. Each year should build on the next with new skills, challenges and expectations.

Within the job description of “Lifeguard,” one can assign additional titles, such as Lead, Trainer, Veteran, Senior, Lifeguard/Swim instructor. Each additional title should have a completed skill, task or assignment attached to it, so it is earned. Additional certifications such as Lifeguard Instructor, Water Safety Instructor, Emergency Medical Response, Person-in-Charge should be offered within the second and third years. If your agency has multiple facilities, working at more than one site or transferring to a new facility each season should be used as a metric to determine advancement.

Create a “Task Book” for each position. This performance-based document identifies the minimum requirements necessary to perform the duties of that certification. (For more details on developing a task book, contact me at [email protected] or call 510-690-6622.)

The expectations of each year need to be clearly defined, accessible and self-paced. We want to outline the six-year plan, so employees can take initiative to follow it.

Employee’s Development Plan

Next, meet the employee, explain what their strengths are and assist them in developing and fulfilling a personal growth plan.

Some employees are self-motivated and will drive their future. Others need your assistance. Spending time with employees will make the difference in them staying an additional year or two. If not you, then one of your lead staff should do the initial meeting, with you doing a short follow-up. You must demonstrate your interest in their development, and it must be sincere. Employees stay because they know leadership appreciates them. This meeting will be crucial in retaining them.

Schedule of Events

The schedule of events plays a large role in getting lifeguards to return. It provides opportunities for staff to have memorable shared experiences, develop lifelong friendships and add meaning to what they do. Holidays such as Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day can be spiced up with a morning breakfast or potluck. A night at the county fair, a cardboard canoe, or a rubber duckie derby can do a lot to bring employees together. Working special events, such as open water swims, triathlons or parades, provides an opportunity for staff to do something out of the ordinary.

When it comes to the off-season, you’ll need to remind employees how much fun and excitement they had working for you, and how much they will have working for you next summer. Reminders can come in the form of short notes or texts thanking them for their hard work. It also can come when you provide them opportunities to meet with their friends during school breaks, like the Wednesday before Thanksgiving or during winter break at a cookie/hot chocolate social. During the President’s holiday, provide a dinner and an opportunity to assist them with their HR paperwork.

March is a great time to interview for leadership positions and to make job offers. April provides opportunities for recruitment and to identify lead staff who will assist with training new lifeguards.

I’m not saying you need to do all this, but it can’t hurt, and something is better than nothing.

Good luck.