The challenges of keeping staff employed during summer

Welcome break, or a turnover agent?

By 
Bianca N. Herron, Digital Editor

summer hours

While students may cheer when school’s out for summer, the folks who are feeding them may not feel the same way. Foodservice directors use that summer “break” to plan menus, secure funding and do major and minor work on their facilities—but there isn’t always work for their staff during those months.

While Brent Craig, director of Douglas County School District in Castle Rock, Colo., tries to provide summer work such as cleaning, painting and renovation projects, he’s only about to keep on about eight people out of his 365 staffers—nearly 70 percent of whom are seasonal—due to a lack of need.

“There are two areas in our district that qualify for summer feeding, and we staff six employees for them,” Craig says. “We have an in-house interview process, and typically 14 people apply.”

Because Terry Baker, director of dining services at Oklahoma State University, provides on-campus dining for programs including sports camps and a 4-H conference, she’s able to extend opportunities to her staff throughout the summer. “We [normally] have nearly 160 full-time employees, and the majority of them want to work in the summer,” she says. “We also sometimes work with our physical plant staff to see if there’s employment.”

David Geleta, associate director of dining and conference services at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., provides services for on-campus programs during the summer, serving less than 100 students for three weeks in June and upward of 500 in July. “The constant change in counts requires us to adjust [staff] schedules appropriately, and often at the last minute, if numbers have changed significantly,” he says, adding that 84 percent of his staff is seasonal, so he often finds himself in need of summer workers.

Geleta maintains a summer call-in sheet to fill last-minute scheduling holes, using temporary workers as a last resort. If he can’t find someone to work in time, staffers pull together to get the job done. Finding summer staff has become a larger issue in recent years, says Geleta, and he thinks generational differences have something to do with it. “In high school and college [Generation X] would work as many hours as possible,” he says. “Now it seems like many of a younger generation place higher value on their personal time and make that a priority—even over work.”

While operators agreed that the majority of their staff enjoy summers off—especially those with families—the seasonality of the pay cycle can be a detriment. “For example, being a single parent, and we’re not able to pay them more, so that can make things tough,” Craig says. “This probably accounts for [our] higher turnover each year [26 percent], because some people get summer jobs and stay at those.” 

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