Community Representative Report

Cordell Wesselink


Disclaimer: This report reflects the views and opinions of the community members who I have either spoken with, who have e-mailed me, or who I have heard in Community Meetings. Others might feel differently. The Esalen Community is a diverse group of individuals who can, at times, have very disparate views and opinions.

Working Well:

1. “I really value the support I receive from the community I know at Esalen.”

2. Large events are generally a success.

    a. “The staff at Esalen have developed a great working system for supporting large events (July 4, Labor Day, Benefit Weekend) which require infinite detail and planning. It results in staff working well together above and beyond their normal jobs so that these events are successful for our guests.”

    b. Labor Day.

        i. Many in the kitchen liked the new setup of having food available during the entire event.

    c. Lots of collaboration and support between departments.

    d. Guests seemed to enjoy themselves.

3. Success of emergency response system in saving lives.

    a. Two community members who work in the office suffered heart attacks in the last two months.

    b. See the attached community experience.

4. Donation for the renovation of the gym.

    a. Excitement for the new gym despite the concerns listed above.

5. Some community members expressed how they like what’s happening with the grounds.

    a. More native plants

    b. Beauty of the farm and garden

    c. The metal artwork on the grounds that mimics what’s already there.

6. Enhanced infrastructure and technology

    a. “The front office works beautifully and I feel it is important for it to be on property.”

7. There is praise for the way the community has tried to move toward democracy and communication, especially from Pete and Mike.

8. Collaboration between the Community Council and one director was very well received by both parties.

9. Those in Cabins seem to especially love their department and the way it is run.

    a. Orientation toward process and learning is greatly appreciated and valued.

10. “I think the E.S. and Work Study Programs are the best part of Esalen.”

11. Esalen is still positively effecting and changing people’s lives.

    a. There is “consistent positive feedback from seminarians and workscholars about the way Esalen has changed their lives.”

Needs Improvement:

As one community member put it: “There are so many things that are ideal here that I really want to fix all the little things that aren’t working.”

1. Lack of a clearly articulated direction for Esalen.

    a. Some feel that management does have a new vision for Esalen (a “culture change”) in mind, yet many are confused as to what this vision is.

    b. Why are changes taking place?

        i. Why is Esalen trying to be compliant with the law in some cases (timekeeping system) and not others (perceived lack of building permits for the new gym)?

    c. How are the Mission, Vision, Values and Practices being upheld?

    d. What directives are the Board giving to senior management (i.e. “What are you telling my boss’s boss to do”)?

    e. “It seems like Esalen is not about people any more, but about money and things.”

2. Insufficient communication and opportunity for collaboration.

    a. Decisions being made without input from those who have to implement them and who are the most impacted by them.

    b. Some community members expressed that they felt hopeless that their voice could make a difference.

        i. This could be a reason for the initial lack of response to my request for information for this report.

    c. E.S. extensions.

        i. Department managers’ ability to choose and retain experienced E.S.’s to meet department needs seems to be frustrated by curtailment of extensions.

        ii. Some E.S.’s seemed unclear as to what the change is and why it is happening.

    d. The new gym.

        i. What happened to previous plans for the gym and were they considered?

        ii. There is some concern about having to give up use of the new gym to CTR participants and possibly other guests.

    e. Redefining the role of the Community Representative.

        i. Many community members have voiced their disappointment and frustration with how senior management and the Board have handled the situation.

            1. “I’m sorry it took the crisis with Cordell to bring out what appears to be similar to unhealthy parenting: what many of us came to Esalen to get away from.”

            2. “It's unfortunate that, rather than work to create greater understanding between the board and the elected rep of the community, that the Board has chosen to put up walls.”

    f. New hires.

        i. There seems to be on-going stress in the kitchen.

            1. Food has run out on multiple occasions.

            2. Unhappiness about the regularity of soup and salad as the main course for lunch.

    g. “There is a premature closure of issues by management.”

3. Many changes implemented without time and support given to effectively implement.

    a. Compensation Package.

        i. Many are still unhappy with changes and the inability to negotiate wages.

        ii. Past agreements not honored and/or ignored.

        iii. No regard whatsoever for:

            1. seniority,

            2. length of service,

            3. individual’s skills, nor

            4. job duties.

    b. Timekeeping system.

        i. Departments report that it is a new full time job to use and monitor the new system.

        ii. Departments like Farm and Garden, Grounds, and Kitchen have limited computer access making an on-line system difficult.

        iii. Numerous mistakes so far in many people’s pay checks.

        iv. Lack of knowledge of the system by those implementing it.

        v. Due to overtime, it now limits, or soon will limit, the ability of community members to:

            1. Teach on the movement program;

            2. Trade shifts to take workshops;

            3. Work other odd jobs to make ends meet.

    c. Disciplinary process (“Performance Improvement Plan”).

        i. Many community members feel unsafe at Esalen due to punishment taking place without clear rules and guidelines to support them.

        ii. One E.S. was kicked off property for two days due to stating a lack of confidence in his manager.

            1. Management refused to articulate the violated policy, even after the E.S. gave up his right to confidentiality.

            2. A group of over 30 concerned community members met three weeks in a row to decide how to proceed.

                a. Talks of walk-outs and strikes were narrowly averted thanks to group dialogue.

                b. Instead, they decided to try to work with management and clearly articulate their need for more clarity, communication and collaboration.

                c. Staff week.

                    i. “We are losing a forum for dialogue right before we really need it.”

                    ii. “I am very disappointed at Tricia's unilateral decision to eliminate the Staff Week tradition of a facilitated daily community meeting in favor of ? With the current party line of supporting speaking the truth (which the ‘administration’ needs to hear) while being respectful (which we hoi polloi need to learn) this would be the ideal venue in which to mutually practice. To not capitalize on this opportunity, runs the risk of making the party line sound like cant.”

                    iii. There are those who are glad for a change.

4. A “hostile working environment.”

    a. The following was submitted by one concerned community member:

        Over the past year, a hostile working environment has developed at Esalen. This environment is characterized by

        (1) management's imposition of harsh disciplinary actions on employees for violations of unwritten, unpromulgated rules, such as use of "playground language", and the expression of negative opinions about management,

        (2) management's responses to employee complaints about compensation and work environment with comments such as "there are a hundred people lining up outside for your job", and "if you are unhappy, why don't you leave",

        (3) management's ignoring or changing retroactively

            - promises about annual salary increases,

            - procedures for investigation of alleged misbehavior,

            - procedures for allowing advocates or fair witnesses in disciplinary meetings, and

            - practices around the granting of ES extensions,

        (4) a widespread feeling among employees of being unsupported and unvalued by upper management.