Oxbow Bend, Snake River

Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

A Better Work Experience Starts with Self-Advocacy

Matt Moore

We’ve been helping folks discover life-changing opportunities in great places for many years now. We know from personal experience how daunting it can be to take the plunge, move across the country, travel to a place that you’ve never been to live and work among people you’ve never met. It’s a big deal!

We also know that sometimes things don’t always go as planned. While we hope that most people go on to have amazing experiences that dramatically alter the course of their lives, we know that it’s still the real world out there, and all sorts of circumstances (one disgruntled or inappropriate coworker, a misleading job listing, a burned-out manager, an obnoxious roommate, a wage issue, etc.) can lead to a disappointing experience. It’s difficult to foresee or prevent every possible outcome, but it is important to know how to advocate for yourself and plan in order to navigate to the best possible outcome.

This article will outline some simple steps you can take to help ensure a positive experience and to prepare you to be able to handle a wide range of circumstances.

So let’s talk about some steps you can take before accepting a job and traveling cross-country on a new adventure.

1. Do your homework! – It’s incredibly important to learn as much as you can about an organization before you commit to giving them your time. Thoroughly read over their recruiting materials and their website. Look them up on GlassDoor to see if previous employees have provided feedback. Ask questions in online communities to see if other people have experiences to share (Reddit is a great resource for learning about regions and seeing if people who live there feel content/safe in their community). Read online reviews and see what customers say about them (take these with a grain of salt – people can be overly picky, and a $7 cheeseburger that didn’t meet expectations doesn’t necessarily imply a bad workplace, but certain information can indicate larger underlying issues). Gather whatever information you can to help you make an informed decision about how a business conducts itself.

2. Ask lots of questions – Remember, in an interview process, you’re also allowed to ask questions. Do you want to know more about how they prioritize and address employee safety? Ask them if they have an incident reporting procedure, sexual harassment policy, an onsite contact who addresses reports of workplace conflicts (e.g. Human Resources, a Manager on Duty, etc.), procedures for dealing with unruly guests, etc.. Obtain specifics about the availability and cost of employee housing/meals (if applicable), confirm your wages (preferably with an employment agreement, if possible), roommates, rules governing conduct in employee housing and who enforces those rules, etc.. The idea is to ascertain whatever information you need to feel comfortable accepting a position with a new employer.

3. Have a Plan – Before you head out on this big journey, give yourself some extra security and comfort by formulating a plan in your mind about what you’re going to do if things don’t pan out quite as expected. Make a list (mental or physical) of who you might need to contact, including:
– Your supervisor
– A Human Resources contact
– In some circumstances, the Department of Labor and/or Civil Rights / Human Rights Commission in the state you’ll be working to report inappropriate working conditions and/or issues of discrimination.

You may also want to plan for other needs that could arise, like a small backup fund for travel and accommodation expenses if you find yourself in a situation that just isn’t going to work out or that you need to remove yourself from.

4. Be A Documentation Pro – Although the vast majority of employment arrangements come and go according to expectations, we do know that sometimes conflicts or disagreements arise. In the instances where issues do come up, it’s extremely helpful to have documented backup supporting your claim, so we recommend that you save every e-mail, request an employment agreement that outlines wages/benefits, hours, job duties, and season dates (when your season will start and end, if it’s a seasonal position), and keep track of your hours. If an issue escalates to the level that you have to file a wage / workplace claim with your employer or a state agency, you’ll be much more likely to make a successful case for yourself if you can provide as much documentation as possible supporting your claim.

As in all of life, things don’t always go as planned. All of us on the CoolWorks team have had experiences that didn’t meet expectations or didn’t go as planned, and it’s not fun. We want each of you to be empowered to handle situations as they arise so that you can confidently navigate, resolve, and move past them as best as possible. So be bold, be prepared, and most importantly, be excited! Hopefully, you’re going to go off and have the best summer or winter of your life, but you’ll have a lot more confidence and peace of mind knowing that you’re equipped to advocate for yourself.