Re: Work or Pay Systems
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Mon, 14 Jul 2008 09:35:26 -0700 (PDT)

On Jul 13, 2008, at 2:56 PM, Jonathan W. Brown wrote:

At Jackson Place Cohousing in Seattle, we are investigating adopting a "work or pay" system for common landscaping. Does anyone know of any "work or pay" systems that other cohousing communities are using beyond these?

We have recently instituted a workshare, or "play or pay," system. It has been a very long time coming and we have been creeping into it since before we moved in. There was great opposition -- at first by almost everyone. Finally, after 8 years the major opposers have become convinced that it is the only way to even begin equalizing the workload, although we have one person who still disagrees but as long as it is totally voluntary has removed her objection.

The first step (5 years ago?) was to set a "target" of 15 voluntary hours a month. Of course, many members, certainly a majority, never did 15 hours a month but there was no recording of hours.

Two years after we moved in, I began keeping a database of what jobs needed to be done and an estimated number of hours required for each one. When possible I asked the member doing the job how long it took each month. There were many objections to the existence of this database. I had constructed it on my own, secretly at first because of team objections. I changed teams in order to do it more effectively and without objections.

When I had the database as complete as I could make it, averaged over 50 members the requirement was 17 hours a month and not all jobs were included. Special projects, for example, were not included but these were too hard to quantify and varied widely. Tasks like researching service providers, supervising service people onsite, getting bids, and researching solutions to facilities issues -- the best treatment for unfinished wood, the best paint for a metal fence, etc.

Two years or so later, about 5 years after move-in, we began talking more seriously about a "play or pay" system and instituted "voluntary payment." There was no amount attached to this. I think the number of hours was reduced from 15 to 12.

After the first year, no one had paid anything, including the members who had previously said they wanted (please) to pay because they knew their jobs required too many hours to do more in the community and/or they traveled to frequently to be responsible for regular tasks.

One of the households who had asked to pay and didn't, however, had contributed an electric door opener to the CH. Another has taken responsibility for paying all the toilet paper for the community. That household also cleans all the toilets in the CH so they were in touch with toilet paper needs. The others just didn't pay.

Over the next two years, a task force worked on a plan. It was discussed several times and instituted about 3 months ago. Still with some grumbling. The hours per month was reduced to 4 and the payment was set at $20 per hour.

Many jobs were defined, mostly by people reporting what they actually did. People were allowed to sign up for the jobs they wanted or the jobs they had already been doing. No one "lost" a job they liked doing. People who did not sign up were called and given their choice of the left overs.

Meetings and meals are not included. Everyone is supposed to go to meetings so they were considered a wash, except for the notetakers and facilitators. Our meals are largely self-serving in that everyone who eats, cooks. A large number of members do not participate. There is some dissatisfaction over Team meetings not being included since only 15-20 out of 65 members participate in teams. Many just do jobs.

Those who do not consider team meetings "work" are the ones not on teams. While it is true that, in my opinion, not all the teams have meetings that produce much work, the facilities team does. it is a hard team with many tasks to coordinate and track. And many decisions to make. (Truth in reporting -- I'm on that team.) The landscaping people also have a huge amount of work because we have wonderful grounds but they rarely have meetings. "Rarely" means not every two weeks or even once a month.

Reporting sheets are posted on a large bulletin board and tallied at the end of the month. A list of total hours for each person is posted and distributed by email. The range is from about 25 to 0. Some of the 0's are people who just don't report. Some of those who don't report, work many more than 4 hours a month and everyone knows it. They just don't like keeping track.

Bills for hours have only been sent to the owners of one household that is occupied by non-participating residents. I think the existence of this household was the impetus for getting this policy passed at all. In order to charge these owners, we had to have a policy that covered everyone equally.

The main impediments to getting a quantified Play or Pay system were (1) the belief that it wasn't necessary because people would all do their fair share at one time or another, (2) not wanting to account for time because it would destroy the "volunteer" nature of the place, (3) it would be too much work to keep track, and (4) it was impossible to measure work fairly. What was work and what wasn't? Another fear was that the person keeping track would be biased.

After 8 years, all those beliefs were shown to be unworkable. We had to do something.

Having a committee overseeing the process, not an individual; having public time sheets; and lowering the amount of hours to (1) the lowest number of hours that any member thought was reasonable to ask and (2) to the number that would be reasonable to pay for if one did not work, removed the final impediments.

I think the committee has given up limiting the hours counted to the "allowable" tasks. People report whatever they do that they think should be counted except for meetings and meals. Eventually this will be looked at again. Some members don't think some activities should receiving so much attention. I suspect this will become a problem when, in order to balance the workload, non-working members will be required to do more hours or be charged.

A related issue in another message -- which team oversees workload?

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing,Washington DC

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