Originally when we talked about work kamping our plan was to visit a different area of the country every summer, mainly for the variety. Our thought process was that it was a big country and we wanted to experience as much of it as we could. We always knew we would have limited options in the winter because of weather, and we thought eventually we would settle on one winter place, which is exactly what happened. And even though we are gate guarding in Texas in the winters, because we are independent contractors we work in different locations and for different companies, so there is some variety in that experience. But summer was the time the entire country (and Alaska) was available to us, so why not take advantage of that? So, some of you may be surprised that we chose to return this summer to the same place we worked last summer. I thought it was worth taking a moment to explain our reasons. I also thought that if any work kamping employers stumbled across this post, they might find it beneficial as well. I will say that as always, this is our experience and our subjective criteria, but I think there is some similarity to what I see with many others I have met in the RV community. So here’s our reasons, and roughly in the list of our priorities, because who doesn’t love a list?
- First and foremost, we really liked the people we worked for. This factor cannot be understated, and for me especially, was my number one motivator for returning. Neither one of us enjoys being micromanaged, but we also like some direction and structure, especially initially. This can be a tough balance to strike, but the folks we worked for last year tried very hard to give us autonomy and direction and those efforts were much appreciated. There was also a level of professionalism and respect that mattered to me in particular. Yes, these are “campground jobs”, and yes, many of us are semi-retired, but that doesn’t mean it should be a free-for-all. The atmosphere is certainly more informal than my previous corporate jobs, which I appreciate very much, but there are also limits and boundaries to behavior and I appreciate that as well.
- We loved the area, and this included our site. When your home is a 400 square foot box on wheels, the outside becomes very important because if it is inviting it extends your living space. Weather is a big part of that, because if it is raining/windy/dusty all of the time, you might never feel like you can take advantage of the outdoors. Also, sometimes work kampers are packed together into overgrown/ill kept spots, and if it isn’t inviting, then who wants to sit outside? The sites this company provides are very nice and there is an understanding on their part of how important it is to have a nice living space. We are encouraged to improve on the sites for future campers, and in some cases materials are even provided to make that possible. In addition to our individual living space, the surrounding area itself offers lots of things we like to do. Lots of waterfalls, hiking trails, and scenic drives are things we personally care about, and this location is attractive to us because it offers many of those. Plus the proximity to the coast and Washington State were huge pluses, because it gives us more places to explore.
- We don’t have to start over. As much as we love exploring new areas and seeing new places, starting new jobs can be exhausting. There is always a huge learning curve, no matter how experienced you are, and it seemed like right about the time we really felt comfortable, the summer was ending. It also takes time to fit into an established culture of a place, and since most jobs have returning couples, it always takes a while to get to know people, and figure out the roles. That’s a lot of work and often stress, and again, about the time we were really forming relationships with people it was time to move on. I found that I really missed having long-term business relationships with people and the friendships that often result from that. That was definitely more important to me than Lee, but even he missed having continuity in his life. Going to a place you know, knowing most of the people, knowing what is expected of you, and knowing how to accomplish that is no small thing. If is simply less stressful.
- Our day-to-day tasks are somewhat fulfilling. I have no problem with doing mundane tasks (including cleaning bathrooms) but the more I get to use my brain the happier I am. Not everyone is like that, some people really enjoy shutting all that off and just plain working all day, but I know enough about myself now after trying lots of these jobs that it matters to me. And a big part of that is having my ideas heard. I don’t expect every idea I have to be implemented, but if it makes life easier and doesn’t cause any issues for anyone, why not try a different way? There are many work kampers I have met who say these are low level positions and you are paid to just “do the job”. And honestly I get that. First and foremost the work needs to get done, but I have always believed that the perspective of the lowest level employee has value to an organization, and I love working for people who believe that as well. The best employers solicit the opinions of the people on the “front lines” and make adjustments when it works with the overall goals of the organization. That’s what I experienced last year with this company, and I particularly liked that when they rejected an idea, they always explained why. The “why” of things is important to both of us.
- We like the people we work with. We have no expectations we are going to be best friends with everyone, and since people are so different we might be working with people that we wouldn’t hang out with socially in a non-work setting. That being said, we are both working and living with these folks and we need a level of friendliness and mutual respect to feel comfortable. And it’s important that we feel comfortable because most of us don’t have a home in another location to retreat to. If you have a work conflict with someone (which happens even in the best of circumstances) it’s likely you will meet them during off hours at the laundry room, common areas, or just walking around. This company talks about having a safe work environment and that including feeling emotionally safe. Harassment of any kind is simply not tolerated, and although I am a big girl and can handle most conflict myself, knowing they have my back in an extreme situation matters to me.
- The services we have access to are also a big factor for us. Initially we both thought we could stay anywhere, but after a stint with no internet we learned that simply wasn’t the case. We need to be able to stay in contact with people and the first thing we did, before even applying for the job was drive to the site we would be staying in and see how many bars we had. We also thought about electric, water, and of course Lee worries about the sewer. All of that being said, we don’t need 4 bars of 4G and full hookups, and we don’t have that here. We talked with our boss about our minimum requirements and he took that into account when he assigned us our position. In order to help with that we made sure we had the right kind of phone service (AT&T works best up here, Verizon coverage is more or less nonexsitent) and we have a booster up to bring the 1 bar up to 2-3. We also have a dump tank rather than a sewer connection, and use the campground restrooms on occasion to make that work. We are aware that part of the trade-off for being in such a remote location is some restriction in services, but we were honest about what we needed, and they told us up front what they could do for us. That’s really the key, because we have walked into situations in the past where the site and services were simply not as advertised, and that is a rough way to start off a new position.
- In addition to services in the campground there are also services in the surrounding area. Where will we do our laundry? Will the doctors and dentists take new patients? Are there decent hospitals nearby? How far away is the nearest grocery store, and how expensive is the food? These are all factors we are willing to be flexible with, and again we understand that living in a rural area requires some trade-offs, but if I drive an hour to the nearest grocery store (which we often do), I want it to have a decent selection and prices I can live with. In this case (as in other jobs we have had) the company provides a freezer that we can use to store some stock-up items in, and that relatively minor perk makes a world of difference.
- Which leads me to the employer understanding the full-time lifestyle. We are aware that unless you have lived like this it is hard to understand, but good employers listen to the feedback from their work kampers and do what they can to provide extra perks that matter to us. We can all tell pretty quickly when an employer “gets it” and although we are OK with helping educate people who are new to the RVer lifestyle, we don’t have a ton of patience for the ones who want to treat us like “regular” employees, because we just aren’t. Our circumstances are slightly different, but there is also a reason why many employers want us to work for them. We generally bring years of varied experience to the job, and almost all of us are extremely hard workers with a great work ethic. There are exceptions of course, but I would stack our workforce up against a traditional temporary workforce any day of the week, and more and more companies are discovering this is a great option for them.
As you are reading all of this, you are probably thinking those requirements are a tall order, and frankly we thought that as well. We were as surprised as anyone, when near the end of last season we started talking about returning, and what that would look like. We both knew we didn’t want to do the same specific job we did last year, but we hoped there would be a good fit for us somewhere in their organization. And it turned out that there was. They looked at us as individuals with skill sets that could contribute, and found us roles that were a better fit. We were gratified that they liked our work enough to go to the trouble, and it further solidified our decision to come back. And yes, we will still be exploring different areas of the country, but we are hoping to do that during the months of October and April when we aren’t working at all. The month we just spent in Utah proved to us that we can still explore new places and have the continuity we are both looking for, and we are excited about trying a new way (for us) of fulltiming.
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