The Relationship Between Seasonal Employee Retention and Sense of Community: The Case of Summer Camp Employment


  • Dan McCole
  • Jeffrey Jacobs
  • Betsy Lindley
  • Leo McAvoy


Employee retention, seasonal employees, sense of community


Many factors in today’s society make it difficult for leisure service organizations to attract and retain seasonal employees. For example, higher education costs have forced college students to look for the highest paying summer job they can find, and college internship requirements have caused students who might otherwise have worked in the leisure service industry during the summer to instead find an internship in their desired fields. Consequently, many leisure service managers face an increasing challenge to attract and retain quality seasonal employees. It is therefore not surprising that retention of quality seasonal employees has consistently been identified as a critical issue facing leisure service managers. Improved retention rates would provide cost and time savings related to recruiting, allowing managers to spend more resources developing programs, and would send a positive message to program participants, parents, volunteers, and contributors.Residential summer camp is a good example of a leisure service industry that is struggling with employee retention. Over 1.2 million adults are employed by summer camps each year (American Camp Association [ACA], 2011), and employee return rates for summer camps vary widely with a mean return rate of 56% (ACA, 2008). These results suggest that there is room for retention improvement and that high turnover, even among organizations that traditionally have long hours and low pay, is not inevitable.Previous studies on summer camp employees suggest that interpersonal relationships and connectedness with others are among the top benefits and motivations for working at summer camp. This indicates that although previous research has examined the issue of camp employee retention from the perspective of job satisfaction, a better indicator of retention might be sense of community.The purpose of this study was to examine whether a camp employee’s sense of community toward the organization is related to his or her decision to return to work there. An online survey was completed by 916 camp employees. In addition to demographic data and information about their experience with camps, employees also completed the Sense of Community Index (Perkins, Florin, Rich, Wandersman, & Chavis, 1990).Results showed a strong link between an individual’s sense of community toward his or her work organization and year-to-year retention and offer guidance to managers of seasonal employees interested in addressing retention issues within their organizations. The sense of community model used in this study provides a framework for retention, recruiting, and development initiatives that may help to improve retention of seasonal employees.





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