Bridging The Gap

By Jay Derick and Michael Griswold

Generation Y has come to be known by several different titles: The Internet Generation, Echo-Boomers, The Boomlet, Nexters, and most commonly, Millennials.

The different classifications suggest the generation is open to many interpretations. As a result, many older camp directors have been left wondering how they can understand the working behaviors of their younger adult staff.

As an extension to a recent conference workshop discussing staff entitlement, camp directors acknowledged similar difficulties in how they might “deal” with the enigmatic behaviors and attitudes in the workplace.

As working representatives of Generation Y in camping, we are looking to create opportunities for an open dialogue in addressing the questions modern-day camp directors may have regarding our generation.

Based on our perspectives and complementary research, we hope to provide pertinent information that outlines our identity as a generation, strengths and weaknesses, motivations, and strategies on “working” with our generation as opposed to simply “dealing” with us. The goal is to aid current camp directors to better understand our working culture.

Bringing Some Sense To Generation Y
Some observers say our generation consists of the most optimistic, civic-minded, inclusive, and technologically savvy people this country has ever seen, while others suggest we are impatient, lazy, stubborn, and entitled. As contradictory as these characteristics may sound, they are closely connected.

How we are defined depends on which end of the spectrum we are viewed from. It is important for camp directors to view us from a holistic perspective; this will allow for a greater appreciation of how we think and operate.

What Messages Will My Generation Y Staff Connect To?
Gen Y’s connect with positive messages from camp directors, such as:

• Be smart, and you are special (Raines, 2003, p. 175).
• Let me show you the way.
• You are valuable to the success of camp.
• You have the power to make positive change.

We are a generation that has been told since birth that we are going to be great in this world, and we believe it! However, it is important for camp directors to remember that we are also a generation striving to succeed in the face of many societal pressures. Prioritizing and conveying these positive messages will reaffirm that what we are doing in camp is important and valued.

How Can I Best Communicate With My Generation Y Staff?
Directors must be positive:

• Challenge us through action.
• Give us feedback regularly.
• Acknowledge what we’re good at and reinforce our value to the camp.
• Bring levity to our conversations.
• Give us structure in what is asked of us.
• Don’t talk down to us; talk with us.
• Be real and genuine.
• Don’t manage us, but coach us.
• Be clear in your intentions.

We are a generation built on communication. For camp directors, know that a warm tone and maximum clarity are important to us. We want to understand what it is that you expect, and we appreciate consistent, genuine feedback. We will value your supervision when you lead by example.

What Are The Strengths And Weaknesses of Generation Y?
Gen Y’s strengths in a camp setting include our being:

• Team-oriented
• Able to multi-task
• Technologically savvy
• Civic-minded
• Inclusive
• Goal-oriented
• Optimistic
• Focused on meaning and personal growth.

We deliver our best work in camp when our strengths and skills are properly highlighted. As a result, we are empowered to create meaningful experiences that will enrich our sense of belonging to the staff and the camp.

Gen Y’s weaknesses include the following:

• Constant need for structure
• Dislike of menial duties
• Dependency on mobile devices
• Penchant for confrontation
• Stubbornness
• Entitlement
• Seeking constant affirmation
• Disrespect for authority (some of the time, anyway).

Although our shortcomings may present difficulties in working with us, we depend greatly on structure and leadership. Because of this, the level of investment shared by our camp superiors may guide us in overcoming these weaknesses.

How Can A Director Motivate Generation Y?
Gen Y’s are looking for the following in the workplace:

• Structure
• Positive environments and people
• Direction
• Challenge
• Meaning
• Flexible schedules
• Good pay
• Fun!

Although many influential factors motivate our work in camp, the biggest motivator is empowerment! Through our civic-minded nature, we want to know and feel we are making a positive impact towards a larger effort. We desire this not only through our roles working in camp, but also for the populations that we serve.

As suggested by Jeffery Leiken, camp directors should “stop trying to teach [us] how to make a difference in one child’s life. Teach [us] instead how to make a positive and lasting impact on the lives of thousands. This is where the greatest potential for the future of camp resides.”

Our generation is tightly focused on how the work we do now will enrich our future.

The Ideal Director for Gen Y Staff
While camp directors must possess many characteristics to successfully manage a camp, their ability to foster positive working relationships with Gen Y staff is vital. We encourage directors to create an open dialogue with this staff, to cultivate an environment in which generational differences are directly addressed, embraced, and leveraged as strengths.

Through a discussion of managerial expectations, staff investment, and communal goals, directors can provide Gen Y staff with both the professional and personal growth they desperately seek.

Directors with these characteristics connect best with Gen Y staff:

• Authenticity
• Mentorship
• Truthfulness
• Investment
• Structure
• Empowerment
• Flexibility
• Sense of humor.

In maximizing outcomes, directors should utilize staff training as a platform for communicating any differences in their world-view and that of their Gen Y staff. By encouraging this staff to be active agents in establishing the working culture of camp, directors will produce greater levels of ownership, cohesion, and direction for the camp.

Where To Take It From Here
As current members of Generation Y, we firmly believe that camp directors can improve their relationships with Gen Y staff, thereby thwarting conflicts over job performance.

As more Generation Y workers enter the camping industry, the benefits of investing appropriate time will result in major dividends. With purposeful changes in communication and empowerment opportunities, camp directors will find themselves coaching young adults who are optimistic, confident, civic-minded, hungry for a challenge, and ready to make a positive contribution to camp.

Eisner, S.P. “Managing Generation Y.” SAM Advanced Management Journal (07497075), 70(4), 4-15, 2005..

Howe, N. “Millennials: Shaping the future.” Retrieved from

Raines, C. Connecting generations: The source book (1 edition ed.). Menlo Park, California: Crisp Learning, 2003.

Leiken, J. “The hidden motivator for to-day's staff.” Camping Magazine, 81(3), 1-5, 2008.

Jay Derick and Michael Griswold are currently second-year graduate students pursuing master’s degrees in Recreation Management and Policy at the University of New Hampshire. They are both aspiring professionals in the summer-camp industry. Derick can be reached at and Griswold can be reached at