Thursday, September 18, 2008

It Looked Like a Duck...

but it didn't quack.

The retreat center we were so excited about receiving an interview for sent us an email, presumably to tell us the "truth" about the job we were applying for, but it told us a truth about them instead.

When a retreat center with a long and illustrious history of doing work in the field of human potential and consciousness sends a letter explaining that the job they were offering -- for which they had a very long list of requirements -- requires potentially up to 128 hours a week of unpaid service in exchange for a mobile home that needs work in order to be brought up to "modest at best" (their words) living conditions, something is rotten in Denmark. Thank God, they were too embarrassed about what they were doing to allow us to drive 2 1/2 hours up to their retreat center for the interview and back. We were able to turn down the interview and diplomatically come as close as I get to reading them the riot act instead.

We knew the job required living on site and being on-call for taking care of the needs of the retreat center workshop leaders and guests on evenings and weekends. We knew it was an exchange for housing. What we never believed possible was that it would be such an unbalanced and unacceptable exchange.

We had had a warning in advance. Because we were nervous about the interview I called the Residential Manager of a retreat center I've been to many times near Santa Cruz. I needed to know what she felt were important things to watch out for and ask about in a job such as this. She was wonderful! Laid out in great detail what you need to do the job successfully, what boundaries need to be set and what very dangerous thing to watch out for: being told that you were responsible for emergency repairs, etc. and then finding out that the maintenance staff never does its job so you're doing their job in addition to your own. Because you happen to be there...and you clearly have nothing else to do...

"On-call" means you're not needed a lot of the time so it's easy to think a person in this position is doing nothing at all, at least from the absent and jealous daytime staff's point of view. "They're getting free rent, what are they complaining about?" Forgetting of course what a rental actually costs and how many hours of paid work that would normally entail. 30% - 50% (in Santa Cruz) of your salary. That's 12 to at most 20 hours a week.

This job had specific hours and responsibilities that would add up to several hours a week right there. (How many hours are not stated.) But on-call doesn't mean you're not working. On-call means being at the ready, available and prepared to jump into action whenever it is required. You can't leave the site unattended. You can't go to a job that actually pays anything, go out to eat or even see a movie without making a specific arrangement to do so. You shouldn't be expected to do that 128 hours a week without back-up relief and you certainly shouldn't be required to do the maintenance staff's deferred work in addition to the work you were told to do. ("Be proactive about fixing things" is what the email heads-up said. The job we applied for said "emergency repairs when needed.")

We heeded the warning. We turned it down. And we're still sitting here shaking our heads about how this amazing manifestation we thought we had created had gone so very seriously wrong.

1 comment:

Jenn Maruska said...

Sorry to hear that what you thought would be a great opportunity...isn't.

But at the same time, what a relief to have discovered this BEFORE committing to that venture. I would try to see that as good fortune, as you have been spared from a situation that may have been very distressing... and are still available for better opportunities that come your way.

All the best to you!