4 Ways to Motivate Seasonal Employees

Tour operator Howie Colt, founder of Gone Sailing Adventures, shares how he keeps his team engaged throughout the entire summer.

by | May 1, 2019

Like many small business owners, Howie Colt, founder of the Toronto-based Gone Sailing Adventures, has a lot to worry about. From finding the appropriate partner location to dock his fleet of six sailboats, to managing the noise his tour company makes so as not to disturb the neighboring condominium, Colt is no stranger to understanding the challenges of running a bustling tour company.

gone sailing adventures staff torontoBut what keeps him up at night the most? Ensuring his mostly seasonal staff is motivated and happy throughout the entire summer. “Half of my employees are summer students,” says Colt. “They get paid well, but they work long and hard hours. By August there’s sometimes burnout, and many employees want to take time off to relax before going back to school.”

After nine years of running the sailing tour company, Colt knows a thing or two about motivating members of his team, who he says play an essential role in ensuring clients have a positive sailing experience. Here, learn how he keeps his team engaged throughout the entire sailing season—and incorporate these ideas into your own business.

Manage time-off expectations. Because Colt runs so many tours throughout the summer, one condition of working at Gone Sailing Adventures is that employees are not entitled to take extended time off during the season. Managing this expectation upon hiring staff is paramount to ensuring employees know exactly what’s in store and what’s required for the summer.

However, Colt tries to surprise employees in July—when burnout can start to manifest—by offering some staff members at least five days off in a row for a small vacation.

Offer small rewards. When employees exhibit extraordinary actions—whether that be an above-and-beyond work ethic or gracefully dealing with a disgruntled guest—Colt sometimes hands out small rewards, such as a $25 gift card to a favorite staff bar or restaurant. A little can go a long way in making someone feel appreciated.

Build community. As your staff will be spending the majority of their summer with each other (and you), cultivating a sense of community is extremely important. Colt tries to hold a staff party at least once per season to show his gratitude, build camaraderie among employees and boost moral. “It’s great if we hold the party on one of our sailboats so my staff can be guests as opposed to working on the water,” says Colt.

Pay well. “When it comes down to it, you have to pay your staff fair and well to keep them around,” says Colt. Research average hourly rates in your region, pay your employees above that and offer monetary incentives (hint: try an hourly raise!) for staff to return next year.

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