Probably should have been a coach, pretty good at blowing whistles
June 19, 2014 9:51 AM   Subscribe

I worked for a few months in the worst workplace environment ever. I'm pretty troubled at how badly the place was run, particularly by the actions of the director. Is there any point/way to let the larger, national organization know about the issues there?

This is a branch of a well known national organization, and the specific site that I was at was in South Carolina. I have since moved on to a different job in a different state (I worked there Feb-April of this year). While the organization does lots of other work, my site was specifically working with kids in a camp setting. Being in South Carolina, the camp and the regional branch of this organization are pretty conservative and I believe that the regional branch is aware/unresponsive to problems at the camp and I am interested in taking my concerns higher, if you all think it makes sense. The national organization is, as far as I can tell, a good organization that I think would be concerned about these issues. The overall organization was originally chirstian but has since become a very well known organization that is pretty much secular at the national level and espouses acceptance of all.

I don't want to give you every one of the gory details, but here's my primary concerns as briefly as I can explain them, many of which center around a relatively new director of the camp, whom we will call J:

-Safety: A lot of safety things like first aid and such were a little more loosey-goosey than I was comfortable with, but a lot of my safety concerns came from a weekend 'overnight camp' that we had. Usually, the staff did not supervise kids overnight during the school year (but they do all summer).

The whole thing was poorly organized. My biggest concerns were poor staff to camper ratios (we had 1:12 staff to kid ratios, overnight, with kids as young as 6 and 7 who had never been away from home before. Staff were in cabins without any other staff. This is sooo far beyond any camp accredation ratio standards.). Some cabin staff were not provided with radios or first aid kits. At pick up time, no one was told what the plan was, so kids were running around in the parking lot as cars came in. There was no sign out procedure. Two kids were supposed to be shuttled home and were left at the camp. No one but me noticed.

The real issue here is that the leadership didn't percieve these things as big problems. They took an attitde of 'eh, mistakes happen, we're still learning.' When I brought these issues up at a meeting, J said "I can see you feel very emotional about this," and then didn't address them.

-Homophobia: This is heresay, but first person heresay. During the summer, staff are told by the director of the camp that if a camper confides in them that they are gay, they need to come to J so that J can tell their family's pastor. J also fired a summer camp counselor for being gay.

-Treatement of staff: This is not something that I necessarily want to emphasize, but certainly was an issue. Of the 12 staff who were hired with me, only one actually finished the season. If it makes a difference in how you think about it, the staff was composed primarily of people in their late 20s and 30's. Staff concerns were regularly dismissed, staff were at one point lied to and told that they were going to have a mid season review and were then grilled one on one about a rule infraction at camp. J frequently made it obvious that he took female staff much less seriously than male staff. There's a ton of other stuff but I'm not going to go into it. I think the 1/12 staff retention rate is probably a good indicator.

Okay, so my questions are:

-Should I raise these concerns? Am I blowing this out of proportion?
-How should I raise these concerns?
-What would be the likely consequences of raising these concerns, if any? I don't really want to get the good folks in trouble.

I've worked in not-particularly-good places before, and I just moved on afterward. I'll drop it if you all think I should. But I feel as though this place could use someone to blow the whistle to the larger organization.

posted by anonymous to Work & Money (7 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Yes, you definitely should outline your concerns in a letter to the main organization. But don't be shocked if nothing happens, or you never find out what happens.

Definitely make most of it about safety issues; no one wants to get sued over hurt campers.

The personnel issues should be mentioned after the safety issues.

As far as "how" you could try looking for information on the national website about such issues, or in your training materials. If you can't find anything, you could call anonymously and ask how to report such issues. They may have a standard form/questionnaire/process (I hope they do).

If not, then I would try to determine the best persons in the organization to alert, and send them a letter directly.

I'm pretty sure I know which org you mean, and my kid went to one of their camps last year. I would definitely like to have safety issues reported.

As far as fallout goes, everything you mention sounds like it falls under J's responsibilities, so I don't know why anyone else would be at risk, but that's not something you have control over.

If they take this seriously, they will probably contact you back and want you to discuss details of your time there and your concerns. So be prepared and have your facts straight.
posted by emjaybee at 10:13 AM on June 19, 2014

On behalf of every parent who has sent a child to camp, yes, PLEASE blow the whistle to the parent organization.
posted by kinetic at 10:16 AM on June 19, 2014 [9 favorites]

Let me guess: you were one of the female staff, right? That "you feel very emotional about this" line about kids being left behind is what makes me say this. Yikes.

Yeah, I'd definitely take this upstairs: do it very factually, emphasizing the lack of communications and radios, first aid training and kits, the lack of child sign-out procedures, inadequate staff/camper ratios, and any other specific failure to follow standards. Write to the national level, and copy the regional level.

I'd leave off the homophobia, the staff being poorly treated and the anti-female bias: not that those aren't valid objections (because they certainly are!) but because you really don't have more proof than hearsay, and if you include them then J can just claim it's more of your female emotionalness and your entire argument will be ignored. Get the kids' health and safety concerns straightened out first.
posted by easily confused at 10:27 AM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

Did you do an exit interview? That's a good time to raise concerns and issues.

If not, then you should frame your letter in these terms, "Since there was not a formal exit interview there was not a forum for me to bring up some of the reasons I chose to leave, which I think it would benefit the organization to know about." Then proceed with addressing your concerns.
posted by brookeb at 1:21 PM on June 19, 2014

Be sure to include, as much as you can, documentation (even if from memory) of specific dates and times you witnessed these incidents, as well as names--like the names of the two kids left behind.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:26 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

You should report these concerns to the national organization, who I imagine would be very interested in this.

Your letter should be less than one page and serve as an executive summary of the issues, and you should focus on the issues that you have personal knowledge of, not rumors. If you want to get into details you can attach a more detailed narrative.
posted by grouse at 2:01 PM on June 19, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just blew a whistle. I had similar issues with my director. She is very unprofessional and drove people to leave regularly and in disgust. I was 2IC, left, took a few weeks breather, the wrote to the board of directors. I was as matter of fact as I could be, explained why I felt it was important that they know what goes on, only talked about things I had directly experienced, kept it general (ie i said she shouted at people rather than list specific incidences because there were so many but in isolation much of it sounds petty). I invited them to contact me and said i didnt want to be involved in any meeting that included my director. Do that if you fear it might be unpleasant, they don't need you in the same room to duke it out. Do mention that 11/12 left, you're right that that speaks volumes. When I quit, a third of my 20 direct reports quit too, they were happy to work with me but didn't want to deal with director.

Do it for the kids and families but be prepared to see no immediate material difference. My thinking is that even if they do nothing, your feedback will go on a pile and perhaps eventually the pile against J will be so big they can't ignore it. My director has had a string of complaints but she always dismissed the complainants as being crazy etc and the board always let it go, things (numbers) were going well for the organisation, she seemed to be running a good ship. Since my letter, several other people have come forward in my support and to speak up too and an investigation has started. Maybe you can harness the support of some of the other 11 to make a bigger impact and for you not to feel so conflicted and vulnerable.

It's a good thing to do, i think the right thing to do, but you might feel uncomfortable as most whistle blowers do.
posted by stellathon at 5:18 PM on June 19, 2014 [2 favorites]

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