Re: Request Info RE: "Sharing Work" Guidelines/Policy
From: Tree Bressen (
Date: Wed, 21 Jun 2006 12:51:39 -0700 (PDT)
Hi Scott,

Hello, This is Scott Bentley from the La Querencia co-housing community in Fresno, California. Iâ??m brand new on this and so Iâ??m a little tentative about asking such a big question/favor of folks out there. But since this seems to me the best place to start, here goes. Our community is interested in beginning to develop guidelines, or a policy regarding how work will be shared in our community once we move in (we also help to have such guidelines help us along our way before we move in). What our facilitation committee has decided to do is to find out how other established communities are handling the sharing of work, present the various methods/ideas to our group as a whole, as a starting point for figuring out what will best work for us. Any feedback on the mailing list related to our endeavor would be much appreciated. If anyone is willing and able to e-mail or send an actual policy or guidelines related to this issue, that could prove very helpful to our group as well. Thank You

I'm a facilitator who works with a bunch of cohousing groups on the west coast. Work policy is the topic i've been asked in to facilitate more than any other topic, and when i was first starting to do that i asked Laird Schaub for advice on how to approach it. What follows below is by him. Good luck! And hang in there, it's a very involved topic.

Laird Schaub says:

Groups do different things (now there's an insight!). Some sort cmty work into categories and establish different expectations depending on the category:
--maintenance vs. improvements vs. cmty life
--cooking vs. cleaning vs. everything else
--everyone must serve on at least one cmtee; everything else is voluntary
--everyone is expected to attend at least one cmty work day per year
--everyone must serve on one team, which is responsible for work needed in a given area of cmty life

Some specify so many hours per year, some settle for a qualitative statement that everyone will contribute and then don't specify any minimum quantity. Some allow members to contribute dollars in lieu of work (including hiring other members to satisfy their work requirement); others don't.

Here are the questions to wrestle with:

o What are you trying to accomplish by establishing work expectations? (How much is it about getting the work done? How much is it about building a sense of "we're in this together"?) [Hint: if it's more the former than the latter, it's possible to come up with some creative schemes whereby people more financially strapped can get paid by people more financially flush to do the work, helping to equalize financial inequalities.]

o Is it acceptable for people to pay others to do their work for the cmty? If so, with what limitations?

o Do you want to establish a minimum amount of hours expected? If so, what is that level? Regardless of your answer to the first question do you want to record what people do, and if so, how will that happen, where will this information be kept, and how often will it be reviewed?

o Will children be expected to participate in cmty work? If so, at what age and in what amount?

o What work counts (cooking for the cmty, cleaning for the cmty, maintenance and repair work, landscaping, cmtee work, facilitating mtgs, taking minutes, childcare, planning and prepping for parties, administrative work for the cmty, maintaining the website, giving visitor tours)?

o By what mechanism (and with what frequency) will people be able to change their commitment to specific tasks in fulfillment of their participation commitment?

o How do you want to handle the situation where someone has the perception that another member is not doing their fair share? Define the process and discuss appropriate responses if there is no satisfaction from the examination (will there be sanctions or just social censure)?

Some options:
o Consider adding to the mandate of the cmtee responsible for integration of new members the task of helping people understand the cmty norm around participation and find suitable ways for them to contribute (aligning interest and ability with need and opportunity). This can be a totally baffling aspect of cmty life. Alternately, you can establish the role of Work Coordinator, whose job it is to keep track of where help is needed and to help people figure out how to plug in.

o Consider having a clearing at least once a year where members get a chance to share how well the participation agreements and follow-through are working for them. This should be an explicit chance to speak to what bothers you and get reflections from others about whether you are perceived to be doing your fair share (both can be an issue).

o What kind of flexibility is desired for people unable to honor their participation commitment (health reasons, family emergency, time demands of job, etc.). Can you stockpile extra work done in one stretch to apply during a period where you do less?

As far as sequencing goes, I suggest starting with whether you want to quantify. A good number of groups answer "no," and that can make a big difference on how you approach the other questions.

I think these are the "big four":

o  Do you want to establish a minimum amount of hours expected?
o  What are you trying to accomplish by establishing work expectations?
o How do you want to handle the situation where someone has the perception that another member is not doing their fair share? o Consider having a clearing at least once a year where members get a chance to share how well the participation agreements (including balance of who does what; warning: martyrs can be as problematic as shirkers) and follow-through are working for them.


Tree Bressen adds:

Because the topic is so complex and people have such strong feelings about it, it's definitely *not* a time to have a committee try to work out a policy on its own and then propose it to the rest of the group. The course your group is taking of researching what's out there and then presenting some options and choice points for discussion is a much wiser course of action. The full group will need to have its paws all over this policy and be significantly involved in its development. Without that involvement, even if you can get agreement (which is unlikely), the policy will fall flat at implementation.

At my home community, we created a work system and only later did i realize what the underlying principles of it were. We are a 10-person co-op all in one house, not cohousing, but i think the same ideas can apply. I have found them to hold up pretty well over time, so i will share them here in case other groups find them useful:

*1. Everyone contributes at least a minimum.* (In our case that is: everyone does one cookshift a week, has at least one cleaning chore, attends weekly house meetings, and attends all monthly work parties unless they've told us ahead that they will be unavailable. Most people also take on some other regular chore(s), such as food shopping, accounting, outreach, etc.) *2. If anyone is feeling overburdened, they need to pass something off.* (It's up to the individual doing more to take responsibility for avoiding martyrdom/burnout.) *3. The necessary work gets done.* (While there are some differences of opinion as to what constitutes "necessary," we do have lists of jobs, projects, and so on to serve as a guide. Sometimes if no one wants a particular job, like mopping the main kitchen, it goes onto a rotation for a while.)

Note that it doesn't say anything here about us all doing the same amount. We never have and i don't think we ever will. Personally i don't mind working double the amount that the person doing least puts in, but if it gets to be triple i start feeling resentful and need to back off. We don't track hours at my community, but because we're all in one house together we are pretty aware of what each other does, and who shows up for what. (I've lived at communities that do track hours and i also see the virtue of clarity in that approach.) We rely on generous portions of goodwill to contribute to community wellbeing in a wide range of ways that are over and above the official system, including gardening, food preservation, dealing with plumbing crises, painting the garage, and putting fresh flowers out on the table.

Hope this is helpful.  Cheers,



Tree Bressen
1680 Walnut St.
Eugene, OR 97403
(541) 484-1156
tree [at]

Results generated by Tiger Technologies Web hosting using MHonArc.