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It's tough being a contractor/temp

First time contractors can find it tough

Having been in the recruitment industry for over 15 years across Europe and NZ I have had the pleasure of working closely with some great people, both as clients and as contractors and/or candidates. I have recruited for everything from temporary Warehouse staff to Contract GM’s and Contract Country Managers in Europe. One of the things that has always stood out to me as being common across all areas, is how isolated contract and temporary staff can feel at times.

For experienced ‘professional contractors’ this “..goes with the territory..” and they learn to accept it, although its not as easy as some would make out. It is however very different for the increasing number of people who are experiencing temporary/contract work for the first time, due to personal circumstance such as moving location or being made redundant. It is a completely different ball game to Permanent Employment. There is lack of certainty in the role from a length of duration perspective, limited employee benefits (if any), lack of respect from Permanent Employees and an expectation that you can do everything… to name just a few of the things temporary staff and contractors have to deal with.

If you are new to the contract/temp market it can be quite a shock to the system. I remember the first time I temped, it was a 5 week assignment and I was getting through the work quite quickly and was close to finishing by week 4. During that 4th week there was a death in my family and I needed the Friday off to go the funeral. I spoke to my manager who just looked at me and said “fine, as you’ve done most of it we can finish it off so just don’t come back for the final week”, there was no feeling behind his words, no concern for the fact I was going to a funeral just a focus on the job at hand. Which is exactly what a temp or contractor is employed for – to get through the job at hand. It was a complete shock to me, having previously worked in permanent roles where there was genuine care and concern for my well being.

For the experienced contractors reading this, how many times have you sat and watched the rest of your team disappear of to a meeting, whilst you’re left to ‘hold the fort’ (answer the phones more like), miss out on a team lunch or not be invited to the Christmas party at all! Not only do you miss out on the ‘fun’ stuff, you can miss out on the supportive stuff as well. Who do you turn to when you are being bullied at work, who do you talk to about feeling stressed or not coping (EAP doesn’t always apply to contractors or temporary staff), who is there out there for you? Some would say that’s what your agency is there for, I would say depends on how good your consultant is. Some consultants will only think of the $$$ and do their best to keep you working for their client regardless, whilst some ignore any issue by ignoring your calls. A few will actually be ‘Consultants’ and actually listen and work with you (but these are few and far between I’m afraid). And then there are contractors who don’t work through agencies – “Sole-traders” who contract directly to the client.

So what can you do if you are finding it tough at work or feel that you are not getting the professional development advise you need? Firstly, know that you are not alone and that many contractors and temps feel the same way. Network hard with other contractors when you can, so you build a support group of fellow professionals who know how you feel. Talk to whoever has been involved in the process of getting you placed in your role and explain what’s happening. Talk to your Manager or HR Manager at your assignment company, they will want the assignment to work out as much as you do and still have some legal obligations to meet. Share your worries with friends, family, counsellor etc, bottling it up won’t make it go away.

The key thing, if you’ve not been in this market before is to be prepared for the fact it will be different. I’m certainly not wanting to paint a bad picture of this type of work, (on the contrary I think it’s a great way of working and know a number of contractors who would never look at a Permanent role again) but want those new to this contract world to be aware of some of what to expect.

Watch out here as I think I’ll put another more detailed blog together for those who are new to this type of work – watch this space.

If you are a temp or contractor I'd be keen to hear your thoughts.