Contracting is like gambling. You never know what cards you’ll be dealt. Sometimes a two-week job is extended to 10 months or more. Other times, a job that was supposed to be long-term only lasts four weeks. I’ve learned to take most of it in stride because it’s often inevitable and comes with the territory. The only constant in the temporary workforce universe is change, and though contractors expect it, ending an assignment is challenging — and premature endings are a whole different ball game.
The length of the project notwithstanding, what makes a big difference is how the assignment ends. I have been contracting for five years. I like the variety and the different opportunities that I have experienced. But an end that is handled poorly leaves behind a really bad taste.
Parting Ways. The rules don’t change if you are terminating someone who is not an employee. If you know an assignment is ending prematurely, don’t contact them until you’re ready to actually give them the news. Sending an otherwise unusual calendar invite for a phone call several days later (on a Friday) arouses suspicion and the temp will wonder, “Why can’t they just tell me now?” They’ll probably contact the recruiter for clarification and reassurance. This puts recruiters in a difficult situation because they’ll have to choose between firing them early, dodging the calls/emails all together, or lying.
And don’t say, “Don’t worry, everything is OK,” when it’s not; when the bad news comes, it will be obvious that you lied and the contractor will feel betrayed. That in turn, will destroy the trust between you and the contractor and, as a result, between the contractor and agency. So, it’s very important that the agency handles the ending professionally. The little things can make a big impact. Was the recruiter compassionate about the fact that the project ended ahead of time — or cold? Were they careful to explain that it was not the temp’s work ethic or anything he or she did personally?
A Gentle It’s Over. In my career as a contractor, I have had many good endings. Of course, when I’ve been able to complete the project successfully, I leave with a great feeling of accomplishment for a job well done, along with an enhanced résumé and portfolio. I’ve even had clients offer to give me a reference and suggest that if something opens — temp or perm — they will talk to my staffing firm.
But sometimes, project scopes or budgets change and layoffs happen — or maybe it’s just not a good fit for both parties. When this happens, it’s disappointing, but temporary workers or contractors learn to cope with it. I try to create my own “good ending” by expressing gratitude for the opportunity. I also like to tell a manager which of their employees were especially helpful or friendly and how it helped me.
Hopefully, by touching base with the customer in such a way, I am helping to create a better working environment for future temps. I want the manager to understand that being inclusive with a contractor helps productivity. I know I do so much better when surrounded by friendly people who take the time to answer my questions and help with small issues that may crop up. Contractors have to learn quickly on the job, and each friendly response to a query counts. And here’s the thing: No one is breaking any laws by answering my questions.
So what are you looking for from your temporary workers/contractors? When you let me go the right way, I will put in a good word for you even if my assignment ended unexpectedly. I will be your evangelist and recommend you to my friends, community and network. And given the extent of some contractors’ network, you want to take this seriously.
Letting someone go is never easy, but being upfront and compassionate can help make it a better ending for them. Given the war for talent, you need all the advantages you can get. Help create good endings!