Operation Enduring Mesa

It’s no secret, we had a pretty miserable experience at our Fall/Winter work-camping gig in Mesa, AZ. While we wanted to give more details throughout the months of frustration, we refrained from doing so on the off chance someone at the resort would run across our blog and it would make it’s way back to management thus causing more problems. Not that we really cared what they thought, but there were other people who were work-camping there too and it wouldn’t be fair to them if things went sideways even more because of our blog.

While it might sound like we are giving our little blog too much credit when it comes to exposure, it’s not hard to put two and two together and figure out who we are when we are at a campground. It’s happened before so it can happen again and there were about 3000 people at this resort so caution was warranted.

Prior to this gig we had only one other work-camping job and we absolutely loved it. In fact, we loved it so much we became lifelong friends with the owners of the campground and we talk to them all the time. They actually sold the campground they owned and are now full-time RV’ers too!

We have many other friends who work-camp and they have all had great experiences with very few exceptions. Some of our friends whom we met at our prior gig have been work-camping year round for many years all across the country and have only had a couple of negative experiences. But even those experiences were nothing like what we endured this time. Thankfully this experience appears to be the exception and not the rule.

Before we get down to the nitty gritty we feel it is important to separate the resort and the financial part of the deal from the department we worked in and the person in charge of it. While the deal for work-campers at these resorts is probably the worst possible deal anyone can agree to, it was something we knew going into this situation. We can’t complain about those terms as we agreed to them, so that’s on us.

However, the add-on fees that were never disclosed in the terms, the difference between the job description and the actual job, and the unprofessional treatment are all fair game.

So here we go…………

The Deal

The deal as sold to us was that we would work 15 hours per week each to cover the cost of our site and electric. The cost of the resort is very expensive with the fall costs running about $760 per month and the winter months costing an absurd $1,460 per month just for the resort fees. We were responsible for paying the metered electric on top of these charges. There are no discounts for work-camping and everyone pays the full retail price. Again we agreed to these terms despite the there being no resort deal for work-campers so this is not something we can dispute.

During the interview process we were pushed heavily towards working in the activities department because we enjoy events, concerts and mingling with people. The job description sold to us was that we would decorate for and work events. The work would consist of things like placing and hanging decor, taking tickets and showing people to their seats, working bingo games and other various events or concerts. We would be participating in some of the fun activities the resort holds outdoors like happy hours, vendor stores and holiday parades.

When we arrived on site the motto communicated to us from management was that we are residents first and workers second. While we are work-campers we are paying full price to cover the costs. So we are technically paying for our stay and should be able to enjoy all of the amenities and events like any other residents. That really resinated with us because the point of living this lifestyle is to enjoy life more and to stay active and this place should have been perfect for that despite the cost.

Our hope was that the amenities and being at a large resort would make it worth our time despite the expenses. After all that’s how they sold it to us. And if we enjoyed our stay enough it could be a place we could return to anytime we planned on wintering in the southwest.

The Reality

After working for a month we received our first statement. Something was odd because there were line items that were never disclosed to us. The charges for the site fees and electric were there, but so were a few other things. Sewer fee: $9.43, Trash Fee: $20.22 and a charge listed as “Other Charge” on the Metered Electric: $20. That’s nearly $50 in fees added to our monthly statement. In terms of work-camping, that is an additional 3.5 hours of work each month that would be needed to cover these additional expenses. This isn’t a huge dollar amount or a lot of extra time, but the fact we only found out about these monthly charges after we started working and received a statement was very off-putting. We inquired about this with several people and they dismissed it as normal practice that we should have known about somehow.

This type of response from management would become the theme of our department at this resort. Had any of the work-campers known that having ESP was a job requirement, we all would have passed on the offer.

We ended up working between 16-20 hours per week each to cover the cost and fees and rarely enjoyed any of the amenities. There were also several days where we expected double shift and work 10 hours. This was also not something we were told about prior to agreeing to the deal.

The Work

When we started working it became apparent that what we were going to be doing was not exactly what had been described to us. We were told that everyone would be trained on all of the different stores and events so that the schedules could rotate. This would allow for everyone to have an opportunity to work the bigger events like concerts and comedy shows when they started which sounded fair.

Unfortunately, this is not what happened as we were stuck on the same two small morning events for the entirety of our stay and the rest of the work outside of those few hours was more manual labor than anything else. The rotation to work the bigger events never occurred unless something forced a schedule change like when we took a day off to go to California in March. That was the only time we were actually scheduled to work a concert event throughout our entire stay.

Aside from our regularly scheduled morning events we basically spent over five months lugging carts of tables and chairs around the resort setting them up and tearing them down repeatedly. We are not talking just a couple seats here as this is a huge resort and the big events were open to all of the other resorts and some to the general public. On the small side, we would set up tables and chairs for 300-400 people. For the larger concert events we would set up for 750 people. It was no small task and too physically demanding for many of the work-campers.

There was also tension within the team which was a direct result of the managements disfunction as decisions would be deferred to other people leading to mixed instructions. This created conflict because we would follow their lead as instructed, but if management wasn’t happy about something the consequence was only directed towards the work-campers and not the people she put in charge of the situation. We took more tongue lashings for things we didn’t do than for anything we ever did!

One incident took place not too long after we arrived and we tried to have a civil conversation with the director the next morning bringing up our concerns and how the issue was addressed. While the right things were said in response to our concerns it turned out to be nothing but empty words and empty promises as things only got worse from there. In hindsight this incident probably should have been our cue to consider leaving.

This was really a no win situation for all of the work-campers and probably some of the office staff that tried to help. To be fair, everyone was trying to do their job, but the instructions from the director were always a convoluted mess that needed to be deciphered as the communication and planning was extremely poor. By the end of the season most of the work-camping group was getting along well. We all tried to make the best of a bad situation since we were all tired of the sideshow and ready to move on.

The Department

As former management types ourselves it was unbelievable at times how we and our fellow work-campers were talked to and mistreated. Under no circumstances in our prior corporate lives would we ever consider taking the tone or tact with any of our employees that we experienced at this resort. Even under the worst of circumstances, and I have personally been through some very distressing and disturbing circumstances in my career, would I ever think to be that unprofessional. And if we had been it certainly wouldn’t have gone unnoticed or unchecked by the people above us or by an HR department.

In this department it was never a matter of if the director would become unhinged at some point, it was a question of when and who would be the ones to take the hit. When things inevitably hit the wall it was common for her to first lash out, then go silent and ultimately walk around having a tantrum while mumbling about how stupid everyone is instead of acting professional and helping people, her team, work through the moment. It was an embarrassing and selfish display that often occurred in full view of other employees and guests.

If those moments were not bad enough the unprofessionalism extended even further and more personal as there were many times she became irritated at work-campers and scoffed at us for asking questions or simply making suggestions. It’s one thing to not agree with or even want to consider suggestions from other people, but to openly say unprofessional things to or about people under her breath or in front of people and guests is a whole different level of unprofessionalism.

This was so common we could probably write an entire blog on these experiences alone. I previously documented my own experience of daring to make a suggestion about table placement for a concert and the gross overreaction in front of the entire team for my efforts. Unfortunately this was a standard occurrence. Poor Mrs. RVF for some reason was always like a moth to a flame and seemed to almost always be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time.

But that’s how the atmosphere was at this resort. We all had to walk on eggshells or risk feeling the wrath. We even had to plan amongst the team to decide who was going to go into the office and dare ask a question knowing the likely outcome. No one wanted to draw the shortest straw and make that walk.

This is just a small taste of what happened on a consistent basis over the course of five months. As much as we would love to detail all of the instances for our readers we don’t feel like you would want to read a 10,000+ word blog. Keep in mind these were only the things we observed and dealt with during our shift. You should hear some of the things our fellow work-campers endured while we were not around!

In the end this was more drama than any work-camper needs to, or should have to, deal with. What we experienced was a level of drama and unprofessionalism that has no place in a business let alone at a place and in an environment that is supposed to be fun like work-camping. Btw, this garbage and infighting extended to the office staff and was occasionally on full display. Guess who was typically in the middle of it?

The only good thing to come out of this experience is that we met some really great people and made some new lifelong friends. This experience pushed us all to grow closer as we teamed up and had each others’ backs when we knew the inevitable was about to happen. We had some great times around the campfire after dealing with the drama and madness. This allowed us to vent, compare notes and at times regain our perspective on life.

While we all parted ways and headed off in different directions we know we will eventually meet up again to share stories and rehash old memories. Hopefully then we can look back and laugh about this horrible experience that is thankfully in the past.

As for us, we chalked it up to an experience and a lesson on our journey. We will add some questions to the list when applying to jobs going forward and probably take the reviews given by previous work-campers a little more serious. There were warning signs before we took this position, but we didn’t give them the attention they probably deserved. Now we are hoping to provide some of that feedback ourselves in hope of helping people avoid a similar fate.

Thank you for reading our blog. If you have any feedback or questions please provide it in the comments section below.

See you on the road!


PS: Since we wrote this blog a few things transpired before we could publish it. Not being one to sit idle and allow others to make the same mistake we did without warning, I gave an honest opinion of this resort on an ad they recently posted in a work-camper group. I tried to be objective and only talked about the deal itself and their failure to disclose the additional fees which might not be worth it for some people. I never mentioned the bigger problems with management or the department we worked in.

The company then posted a second ad and decided to not allow comments on this new post. This was obviously done to avoid negative feedback, which was abundant in the comments on their first post, so I shared that second post back to the group reiterating the bad deal. This time mentioning the fact that the department we worked in was more manual labor than anything and wasn’t the fun position as was portrayed. In addition it was a very unprofessional environment and people should avoid that department if they choose to work at the resort.

This started a bit of a shit storm as some of our fellow work-campers saw the post and chimed in validating my post and voicing their own opinions and account of the experience. Other co-workers of ours had already written letters to the director and resort manager detailing the negative experience they had. This along with the large amount of negative feedback from others with similar experiences at this company stirred the pot quite a bit.

We won’t go into too much detail on this, but apparently it has reached the HR level and some changes and retraining are supposedly in the works. Maybe this will cause some self reflection and changes or maybe it’s just smoke and mirrors to put the issue to rest. At this point it’s hard to believe anything that’s said and we won’t be there to see if any actions were taken.

While we will never return to this resort, maybe, just maybe, we were able to effect some positive change that will benefit future work-campers who decide to roll the dice in Mesa.

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