When Is My Time Up Really Up At Work?
September 7, 2011 6:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I tactfully and professionally find out how long a long-term temp position may go for at my current position?

I'm currently in the middle of a three-month long temporary position, where it doesn't seem like the end date they set for my contract will be possible considering the workload. How or when is the best way to approach my supervisor to find out if it's a firm date of termination or a situation where they may be extending my time?

I don't want to be caught in a position where I can't plan for my future or be told Friday afternoon my contract's been extended for a new Monday start date.
posted by Lipstick Thespian to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have weekly meeting's with your supervisor?
posted by mulligan at 7:00 PM on September 7, 2011

ask your supervisor when a good time would be to come by her office, come in and shut the door, and say "I'm really enjoying this assignment, and I was hoping I could get some feedback on my performance so far, and also check in with you as to whether you know anything more about the duration yet." If she asks you if something's urgent, what she means is, do you have another offer, so tell her no and that you'd like to stay.

A lot of time they won't know how long a project will go - variables like headcount, upcoming projects, etc, make it hard to forecast - but sometimes they at least have enough to revise the initial estimate.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Hi, so I'm starting to put out some feelers to land a gig after this awesome temp assignment is over. Can you verify for me that _______ is still going to be my end date on this assignment? I'd like to have a firm date of availability for my potential future employers."
posted by litnerd at 7:04 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

One of the reasons companies use temps in the first place is because they can let you go at any time and without notice. The good news for you is that YOU can bounce in the exact same manner and no one will blame you one bit. They keep you in the dark for a reason, so I wouldn't even ask, honestly - I'd keep plugging away, keep applying for (permanent) jobs, and cross my fingers that this position will last until you get one. For that reason, I don't see any harm in asking, but I wouldn't ask it in the manner litnerd suggests (i.e. do you promise you'll lay me off on this particular date?) if what you actually want is a longer term gig.
posted by moxiedoll at 7:11 PM on September 7, 2011

Moxiedoll, nearly every state in the US is an "at-will" state, which means an employer can fire you for any reason, or no reason at all, so long as it isn't an illegal reason, at any time. There's no benefit to having temp employees in your particular example that doesn't apply to regular employees as well. Personally, I don't think it's a bad idea to remind your employer that you're looking for something permanent and if they don't snatch you up/extend your contract in advance, they might lose you.
posted by litnerd at 7:24 PM on September 7, 2011

From what you describe they may not know. It might be a firm date, in which case they will probably tell you as much, but be prepared to have the answer be Your guess is as good as ours.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:31 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sure, litnerd, I hear you on the at-will thing (although I maintain that part of why companies use temps is for the no-fuss no-legal-risk disposability)... I guess my main point was to respond to this part of your proposed question: Can you verify for me that _______ is still going to be my end date on this assignment? I'd like to have a firm date of availability for my potential future employers. The OP's availability date is now. Yesterday, even! The "last day" quoted by the temp agency/contracting employer is not a firm commitment. They could tell her she's done tomorrow, and she could tell them the same. That's how these things work. Since her goal is to work steadily, and since she is free to move on to something else at anytime, expressing an unwillingness to work past the quoted end date is counterproductive.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:01 PM on September 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've been a temp and have supervised temps, and I'm sorry to say that there may be no way to know.

Sudden decisions to cut temps, in my experience, are often made way above the heads of the department employing the temp and handed down with little opportunity for argument from anyone. Temps get yanked during budget shortfalls as a short-sighted way to cut expenses, or even "for appearances/on principle" -- even if the dept paying the temp has budgeted for it.

As for project length, there are often company policies in place restricting how long a temp can be kept, but it's commonplace to find ways to work around this. Sometimes this means they're trying to hire you for real, sometimes they just want a reliable temp and know that it will be impossible to make a permanent offer.

Speaking as someone who has often temps working in my department, I find the whole situation frustrating. It takes time to create unambiguous directions for a task, and then it's worth it to spend a little more time giving the temp some background/context because it makes the work less pointless-seeming, and therefore easier to do accurately. At the same time, I have other time constraints that prevent me from taking a lot of time on this. Meanwhile, I am expected somehow to make sure that our temp's work is up to snuff. But several of us are assigning work to the same temp and it's not always clear how she's being told to prioritize. Well, of course it's not -- the person prioritizing is our office manager, who wouldn't necessarily understand how a particular data entry task fits into the bigger picture, and neither would the temp, who doesn't really have any say anyway.
posted by desuetude at 8:08 PM on September 7, 2011

Unless you work for an amazingly awful person, there is no harm in asking.

I am currently a "Contractor" (fancy name for temp worker) and I ask my boss to just "keep me posted." We're on pretty good terms, so every time we have a check-in meeting he gives me any info he has like, "it looks like we'll keep all our contractors through February."

Of course it's all subject to change and he doesn't always know himself, but he understands my situation and does his best to keep me in the loop. Just ask politely.
posted by drjimmy11 at 8:18 PM on September 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

litnerd, that phrasing makes it sound like the asker can't wait to be out of there. As someone who's worked in staffing for many years, I can say that if I heard from a client that a temp I placed at her office came to her with that line, I would assume that I need to start working on replacing the temp.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:17 PM on September 8, 2011

As someone who worked as a temp for 15+ years, ask your temp agency. This is part of their job for you. They can either give you advice on how to approach your current boss or ask them for you. They are there for support as well as placement and want you to succeed.
posted by kashtana at 1:39 PM on September 9, 2011

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