Mr Angry’s rules for permanent employees working with contractors

This post in my series on contracting focuses on suggestions for non-management permanent employees working with contractors. The driver for this is that over the years I’ve worked on both sides of the fence and I’ve seen the sorts of preconceptions and misconceptions that can strain working relationships between permanent and contract staff. The sources for the suggestions in this post are a combination of things I have seen myself and the questions I am most commonly asked about contracting by permanent staff.

Let’s get the touchy one out of the way first: money. Don’t ask a contractor how much they are getting. Ever. It’s unprofessional and rude and, honestly, no good is going to come out of asking. If you want an idea of how much contractors can earn, look up some job ads. I’ve covered this topic in detail in previous posts so, if you need to, go back and re-read the sections comparing contract rates to permanent rates.

Contractors are not, by definition, any better than permanent employees at what they do. The reason for employing a contractor can vary from case to case and it’s worth finding out the reason a contractor has been hired if you find yourself working with one. If there’s any sort of decent management in your workplace (a big “if”, I know) then the contractor will have skills and/or experience that nobody else has. In the case of specialists, it’s easy to see why a contractor has been brought on but this is not always the case. Sometimes a contractor will have the same skill set as permanent staff (or even less skills) and they have been employed to provide “an extra set of hands”. This can lead to the unfortunate circumstance where someone appears to be getting more money while offering less return but this premium is the return for giving up the security of perment employment.

It’s worth getting clarification (preferably written) of how you, as a permanent, are expected to relate to a contractor. Are they a peer? Are you expected to report to them or pass any of your work through them? Will they have no impact at all on your work or who you report to? Once you have the word from management, introduce yourself to the contractor in this context:

“Hi, I’m… we’re going to be… I’m looking forward to…”

All those nice platitudes. This is good practice for two reasons. First, it gets you both off on a positive footing. Second, it can reduce miscommunication. It is not unheard of for management to tell a contractor one thing and permanent staff something else (shocking, I know).

I can’t recommend strongly enough that, where appropriate, permanent staff have a lot of interaction with contractors. There’s all those airy-fairy “team building” concepts of course (and I strongly believe the contractor should be treated as part of the team – for everyone’s benefit) but there are also some excellent selfish reasons for doing this. I’m going to approach this from a positive perspective and assume that you, as a permanent employee, want to improve your position/career/pay rate. If you happen to be the bump on a log type who is happy to sit the same desk and do the same job for as long as a regular paycheck keeps coming, feel free to ignore this advice.

A contractor, by definition, is doing something that a permanent employee isn’t and they are a much better source of information than any agency, article or guidebook when it comes to discovering what life as a contractor is really like. You may have no interest in becoming a contractor as such but a contractor is likely to have had more diversity in their roles and can provide some valuable insight into how to develop new skills, how to adapt to changing environments and what skills and/or experience are most valued in the job market. Whether you are looking for advancement in your current workplace or wondering what roles might be available elsewhere, someone with active experience in the job market (e.g. a contractor) can help you make a decision.

What it all comes down to is don’t build walls between yourself and contractors. Honestly, some contractors are jerks, gloating about their exciting life and sky-high pay rates and they can make you feel resentful towards contractors in general. If you’re going to dislike someone, do it because they’re a jerk, not because they’re a contractor. In my experience, the vast majority of contractors want to get on with their permanent co-workers so give them the benefit of the doubt.

Pretty much the only platitude I subscribe to is “if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” Bitching about contractors having too many advantages doesn’t help your situation. Besides, if you were so sure they had things so good, surely you go out and do some contracting yourself? Permanent staff can gain a lot of benefits from working with contractors so don’t be shy. Treat them as part of the team and you never know what you might gain.




Filed under Work

11 responses to “Mr Angry’s rules for permanent employees working with contractors

  1. Yep, it’s hard to hear that a contractor makes 100$ an hour.

  2. The contractor at $100/hour must work two days monthly to provide health care benefits; two days to cover the minor overhead of the job, monthly. Is that much different from what full-time employees must work? Then there are the marketing costs, the billing and accounting costs, the doubling of the social security tax (FICA) — unless the full-time worker is at $10/hour, $100/hour could well work out to less than the full time worker is making at considerably less.

  3. You’re both right. Permanents shouldn’t ask a contractor what they’re being paid simply because it’s hard to stay objective when you hear that big number. And contractors have huge amounts of expenses that permanents don’t have as well as not having job security. I think in most cases the difference works out about 25% in the contractor’s favour in pure dollar terms but that’s the benefit you earn for giving up the security of permanent employment.

  4. bigstarlet

    I could have used this advice at my last VERY LONG TERM contractor position. It would have save me some headaches. Not to mention heartaches…

    I pretty much made every mistake a contractor could make, as well as see every mistake a manager could do in relaying information between perms and temps (my bad: I actually responded when someone asked how much I was making at the job – it turned out to be more than he was making. Their bad: not relaying to the perm I was working the most closely with what my responsiblities actually were going to be, basically turning me into a threat, in the perm’s eyes).

    I’m now a “perm” myself, tho’ not at that particular company. I loved being a temp, but well, you know…

  5. A lot of people do jump into contracting without much preparation. If you start somewhere good, you’re lucky – but there are heaps of things that can go wrong.

  6. PissedPerm

    A foreign contractor has just joined our small company – because I know his high hourly rate compare to mine (I overheard the hourly rate discussion between the head of our IT and the agency) I hate his guts and will never speak to or acknowledge him. I intend to leave the company as soon as possible and go contracting myself.

  7. PP: so long as the contractor isn’t a jerk don’t be too harsh on him. I think you have the right to be pissed off at management if his rate is disproportionate to yours. Better still, follow your plan, take control and get what you’re worth!

  8. yaya

    Contractors are jerks

  9. Well, with such a well-reasoned and supported argument, who could possibly disagree with your estimation on who the jerk actually is?

  10. Pissed Perm

    I took your advice ! I’ve been properly contracting now for almost two years (multiple contracts/renewals through an agency, invoicing weekly) and earning at least 3 times what I earned as a perm.

    Had a full month off at beginning of year between contracts – no phone calls, interviews, work of any kind – the best/most relaxing month ever of my entire working life, I want more of that, and plan to take it soon – I can afford to now !

    Am getting the other side of the coin now – jealous perms who have found out my daily rate trying to make my life difficult ! F**k ‘em – do the job, earn the big money, and go home !

  11. “contractors are jerks” Yea. If the permanent employee was able to do their job, the contractor wouldn’t be around. You permies say “We are unable to do our job. You do it for us.” Then you call us jerks when we outperform you. Yep Yep. The last job I had was like this. We phased out some legacy system, installed a new one, and right away 2-3 permanent employees QUIT THEIR JOB and then 2 contractors came on to work with the new system.

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