New role conflicts with previous client's vague plans - how to deal?
June 4, 2020 4:14 PM   Subscribe

Mid-May, I finished a three-month contract with a cultural government organisation (org #1). On finishing, they expressed keenness to get me back for another two projects, both very high profile, but are now being extremely vague about my involvement. This week I was offered a six-month contract with an administrative government department (dept #2), immediate start, not evil, bit dull, fills a experience gap in my CV, WFH/local, 25% more money. I just signed the contract. Now I feel bad. How/when to explain to org #1?

On talking dept #2's offer over with family and friends, it seemed like a no-brainer. But now, sitting on my own in my house, having just sent off the signed contract, I'm anxious. I feel like I rushed for the money, when if I could have waited things out for a few more weeks then I would have had the chance at two absorbing, career-defining projects.

On the other hand, I could have turned dept #2 down and in a few more weeks had no work at all. Org #1 could still decide not to use me for project A (it's a role that probably deserves a specialist), while project B is definitely not going to start until at least October / November. And then there's Covid-related layoffs looming in August, so more competition in the jobs market, plus Brexit staring down the barrel at us afterwards.

Anyway, to ask my question, I was wondering how best to approach this with dept #1?

They know I made an application for other work, as I had to ask them for a reference. Their last email, post-reference request, said something along the lines of, "We'll keep you posted. There’s already been some movement on the [redacted] side of things, so we’ll let you know more when appropriate". This is the level of vague.

I was thinking that I should do the decent thing and email to let them know what I'm doing, why I did it, and to say that I would be available to join project B in December, if required. Thinking about it, I could offer to help with project A by taking a week or two off from the new role at some point - though I'd have to find out from dept #2 if that was a possibility. Otherwise, would it be shooting myself in the foot to give them details of some appropriately qualified specialists for project A?

But then again, if I contact them preemptively, I'll never find out what they would have offered me. If it were a solid offer, I could potentially give notice to dept #2 and go back to org #1...

But then AGAIN, seems breaking a contract is a big no-no in this industry, so I'd be reluctant to do so if I could avoid it.

Lots more conflicting thoughts relating to the fact that org #1 is notoriously ill-equipped for these projects: upper management tending to make poor decisions, plus it's Dunning-Kruger all the way down. There's no guarantee that the outcomes for either project will be any good.

What would you do? Any and all advice gratefully received.

(I'm probably putting a lot of Covid/Brexit/BLM/UK-general-shitness anxiety into this. Maybe I should just calm down and count my blessings!)
posted by doornoise to Work & Money (15 answers total)
Let them (#1) know - when/if they offer - that due to the delay in them making their offer, you needed to take another contract in the meantime, but you're available X date for part-time (if possible), and you'll be able to move to a fuller focus on it by X date. (But really... if you're a independent contractor, you're not supposed to have just one project/ contract. That would generally make you an employee being paid like a contractor... so they shouldn't have a problem with it. Unless they *are* intentionally or ignorantly cheating, and expecting you to behave as an employee...)
posted by stormyteal at 4:22 PM on June 4, 2020 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Technically I'm not contracting with them as an individual but as a company. It's in the contract that I could send someone else in my place (if I could find someone with the same experience), also that I can do any other work I like so long as it doesn't conflict with this project. The work for which happens to occur for the next six months between 9-5, Monday-Friday.

This is extremely standard practice in the UK. I could go into the peculiarities of IR35, but suffice to say, this is not one of my issues.
posted by doornoise at 4:36 PM on June 4, 2020

Best answer: Snooze = lose, org #1. Especially right now.
posted by praemunire at 4:37 PM on June 4, 2020 [20 favorites]

What? No. You have nothing in writing about the vague upcoming jobs from org 1? You’re fine.

If/when they finally get back to you, since you say you’re contracting as a business, here is a chance to work like one. I have a business because I’m dumb and say yes to too many things, so I had to figure out how to work more than i should and learn how and what to hire folks for/outsource. Have fun.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 4:45 PM on June 4, 2020 [3 favorites]

Organizations offering contracts are very conscious (or should be) that quality candidates can slip through their fingers in favour of full-time permanent work if they don't sweeten the deal - either by offering more money, some intangible benefits (e.g. flex work), or by otherwise making life easier, e.g., smoothing the path for the hiring process. It doesn't sound like you got any sweets from Org#1 so I don't think you need to worry that you're betraying some investment on their part.
posted by cranberrymonger at 5:38 PM on June 4, 2020

Since you used them as a reference, I’d thank the reference and let them know you got the job and are still interested in working for org 1 in the future. It’s a courtesy to your reference, I wouldn’t tell org #1 otherwise, but I doubt that being transparent will hurt you here.
posted by momus_window at 6:13 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like there is a very real that org#1 projects may not happen or may get pushed out far enough that you will have finished your contract with org #2.

They told you that they would get back to you when they have anything to say. I would not preemptively tell them you are doing something else since you are not currently in active conversation about this project. When they get back to you, you can figure out your options depending on which project they do and when it will be starting. Leave the door open!
posted by metahawk at 6:32 PM on June 4, 2020 [6 favorites]

Another vote for do nothing now, wait and see if org #1 ever comes back to you with an update or offer, and if so, tell them then. It'll be at some undetermined date in the future so unless it's, like, tomorrow, you'll automatically have more info about your role with org #2, your timeline there, and any possibility of working with #1 again.
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:05 PM on June 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: >I just signed the contract. Now I feel bad. How/when to explain to org #1?

If they liked it they shoulda put a ring on it. Please don't waste any time feeling bad; bird in the hand is the only way to survive as a contractor. If they ever definitively ask for your time you can definitively tell them whether you have any or not.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 7:06 PM on June 4, 2020 [9 favorites]

I'd just wait till you hear back from org #1. If they want to hire you, find a great sub-contractor to support the grunt work of both, and do both!
posted by amaire at 8:08 PM on June 4, 2020

Best answer: #2 all the way right now. I work for a cultural government agency in the UK and funding is a huge issue due to Covid, projects are under intense scrutiny and the outlook is changing literally every day at the minute. If you have an an opportunity to build experience with #2 it sounds like a sane place to sit out the churn until #1 is in a position to hire again. #1 will understand, there will be no hard feelings.
posted by freya_lamb at 11:58 PM on June 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

Fellow contractor here. For us utilisation is high but pipeline thin. So yeah, I’m making hay while the sun shines. No guilt.

Your job now is to maintain a good relationship with #1 in case this prospect heats up again. Totally doable. It’s natural to feel anxious about being committed to something else so maybe try to focus on how the fact you are unavailable makes you more attractive to the client as a contractor.

Timings for contracts, especially with govt and local bodies are notoriously unpredictable which may work in your favour. You may be able to keep working to the end of this year if you’re lucky.
posted by BAKERSFIELD! at 12:25 AM on June 5, 2020

Heh, I came to say 'you snooze you lose' but praemunire beat me to it.

It may well work out perfectly in that by the time they get their act together you're close to the end of your new contract. In an alternative universe where you turned it down the 6 month work project 1 never, ever, ever get back to you and you miss out on both.

You're a valuable person. They can't just have you sitting around.
posted by kitten magic at 2:18 AM on June 5, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who replied. Especially grateful to freya_lamb, who confirmed one of my suspicions about the current state of UK govt funding.

I'm going to sit on my hands for the moment as regards org #1. I can make a decision if and when they share their plans.

The dept #2 contract starts on Monday, so I'm going to do my best to smash that. And also focus on the fact that I'm lucky to have work in these times.

All the best, y'all.
posted by doornoise at 4:05 AM on June 5, 2020

Every employer, everywhere and at any time, treats employees as a commodity. Employees should treat employers honestly, but should remember their value. #1 couldn't commit and has 0 expectation that you should accommodate them. Congratulations on the new contract and the bump in pay!
posted by theora55 at 12:27 PM on June 6, 2020

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