Ouch: “I have had somebody place a holiday gift on my desk and then take it back later after realizing I was not staff.”
In a past column about gossip, a manager asked how to deal with a subordinate employee upset about the abrupt firing of her contractor friend. I recommended explaining to the subordinate that contractors are a “plug-and-pay” resource.
Unfortunately, to several readers, my deadpan delivery came across as a lack of compassion for the canned contractor. So, for what it’s worth: I don’t approve of contractors being treated as disposable drones — especially since this very column is written under a freelance contract.
Depending on whom you ask, current statistics indicate that as much as a third of the U.S. workforce is earning income as freelancers, contractors or gig workers, with some sources predicting that portion will be 40 to 50 percent by 2020.
And despite the appeal of being one’s “own boss,” not all those workers are independent by choice. Thanks to downsizing and outsourcing, many professionals with degrees and training in traditionally lifelong career fields are scrambling to make ends meet while looking for a coveted long-term contract or temp-to-permanent opportunity. To add insult to insolvency, contractors also lack most of the benefits and legal protections afforded their fully employed officemates. And although three states and New York City have established legal protections for contract workers, and the federal government is prohibited from contracting with businesses that discriminate, it’s the day-to-day disses that seem to cut deepest.
Some examples from friends, family and readers in the contracting world (nameless at their request):
“A few weeks into one contracting assignment, the office had a fire drill. Following procedure, I left the building and went with the employees to check in with the safety officer — who, on seeing my badge, told me, ‘Oh, you don’t need to check in, contractors aren’t on my list.'”
“I have had somebody place a holiday gift on my desk and then take it back later after realizing I was not staff … [and had] my papers moved to the floor while I was at lunch so that they could give half of my desk to somebody else. … One time, because they refused to put me on the general email announcement list, I had no clue that water was being shut off in the building until I needed to use the restroom.”
“When my open-ended contract was canceled, my manager, who was a mentor to me, wasn’t allowed to break the news. My contract company ‘handler’ had to come in to officially tell me.”
“Twenty-four hours before he was to leave on vacation, the boss I was contracting under informed me that I could ‘resume’ my duties when he returned in three weeks. ‘Think of it as a little vacation for you, too,’ he said. Except he didn’t explain how I was supposed to pay bills during those three weeks.”
So, yes, the contracting life is what it is. But that’s not to say it is as it should be.
Pro tip: For an ongoing, in-depth portrait of contract workers and the gig economy, read or listen to NPR’s series “The Rise of the Contract Workers.”