Saturday, May 30, 2009

Oh, the charms of temping

Let me preface this post by saying that I am really pleased to finally have a temp job. I am getting closer to an actual job, as well, but in the meantime I'm really happy to have income again. But I'd forgotten how truly ridiculous temping can be. Here's what I walked into:

- I'm doing data entry at an insurance company, though our actual client is a law firm I think. We're bar coding every file in the history of the company so they can find the relevant hard copy should it be required to defend them in a lawsuit. Data entry itself is never interesting. But that's part of temping...the work is SELDOM interesting...and so it is what it is and I'm fine with that.
- I was told that the company is business casual but that I should dress closer to business since it was my first day. In reality, we are not working in the main offices and all 30 temps AND the supervisors were in jeans, sweats, and other casual clothing. But I looked nice in my trouser suit. This job is not pleasant, and I think my temp agency knew it was not pleasant. Therefore hiding this fact by disguising the dress code doesn't help. Better to prepare me for what I'm walking in to. In some ways, being told you're going to work in a casual environment is a selling point for a temp job.
- The reason for the casual attire is that we are digging through files in various states of decay. Some are just dusty and full of residue from the carbon copies (or worse, the carbon-less copies) of forms in the files. My lovely trouser suit now needs dry cleaning. This was the more important detail for full disclosure in advance of me confirming that I'll take the position. I'm sure they left out this information because they feared people would turn the positions down and they really needed to fill them...a valid concern. However, they were assuming that the fact that this job is a manky, dusty mess would generate automatic refusals, and that is not necessarily true. It's just as likely people would view it as a challenge and dive right in...and if they really were turned off and unwilling to take this on then they would say "no" upfront, never be introduced to the client, and the agency could be sure they're sending in people who will stick with it, thus preserving their credibility. Of course, they did NOT share the details of the work, and now I have a security pass, a dry cleaning bill and I feel completely duped. I'll be switching temp agencies as soon as I can, partly because the one I'm currently working with will blacklist me if I cut out of this assignment early, and partly because I now don't trust my employers.
- Luckily, they have gloves and breathing masks available if the crap gets to you. I will look like a dork as the only one wearing them, but my allergies and asthma require it if I'm going to stick with this.
- The room is set up with boxes around the perimeter and folding tables and plastic study hall chairs at the work stations. As part of my orientation my supervisor said that she knows the chairs are horribly uncomfortable so there's no need to complain to her. She doesn't want to hear it and it won't help because she won't get us something else. (Screw you, OSHA!) You'd think a lawyer who's acting as the project manager would know enough not to say something like this, what since it exposes them to all sorts of legal issues. In the strictest sense, the employer should realize they're breaking every ergonomic work standard in the book and be making an effort to change this, rather than keeping the end client's cost low by compromising the workspace health standards for their employees. As far as I'm concerned, this is an absolute and a huge error in judgment. That said, if they really ARE going to intentionally allow this sort of work environment, they should at least make employees feel they can bring up concerns and that they will try to help if they do...most people will look the other way anyway so they won't have to do a thing.
- On the upside, we have windows. Of course, we don't have access to water coolers, office coffee, vending machines, refrigerators or microwaves...but there are restrooms so at least that's something. A small fridge and a microwave for the duration of the project cost less than one week of my time. If they don't want to advocate for access to the main kitchen for the temp workers, then it wouldn't be that hard to set up a makeshift one temporarily. Heck, even just a fridge and a water cooler would be enough.
- So what am I doing with my MBA you ask? Well, I get a box of files. I go through each folder or document, find the policy number and type it into Lotus Notes to print a label. I stick the labels on the folders (which means I create folders for the loose papers,) and then I put a shipping label on the box and stack it in another corner. Repeat. Not interesting, but in itself not criminal.
- I do this from 830 - 530 every day. We do get breaks...there are mandatory 15 minute breaks from 1015 - 1045 (teams are divided into two groups and take turns,) a mandatory unpaid lunch from 1230 - 130, and another round of 15 minute breaks in shifts from 315 - 345. These times are when we are allowed to use the restroom, unless of course we have an emergency and ask a supervisor. And there is no deviation...don't even think about asking to work through your lunch to leave an hour early for an appointment, or to take your break in the other group's 15 minutes of rest. I mean, we have standards and rules, people. Every one of the people working on this project are paralegals, lawyers or other professionals. Having rules that can be bent when necessary should be completely allowed. There is no real benefit to this military precision, unless creating a sweatshop environment is helping the project.
- The upside of this is that with all the saved podcasts on my iPod, I should have plenty of time to get caught up on my Manager Tools. Of course, iPods, radios or other distractions are not allowed. Ditto for internet access or excessive chatting, because we need to concentrate. See my point above...this would be a simple way to improve employee morale, and the likelihood of it affecting our work is slim considering the backgrounds of the workers.
- They frown upon requests for time off or absences for interviews and other things that might indicate you aren't dedicated to three straight months of this. Don't be ridiculous. Of COURSE no one is dedicated to three months of this. Personally, if I were the project manager I'd lay the expectation with the temp agency that we expect the employees to be there, but that requests for absences would be allowed within reason with prior notice. The temp agency could then establish rules/timelines of notification, etc. for absences to keep things under control, which would give them recourse if a temp abused their good will. This would actually encourage a lot of people to really commit to this...it would be guaranteed work for the summer, at a reasonable wage with flexibility for an afternoon off now and again when you need to go on an interview. So what if the work is messy and a bit dull...at least you have money coming in and can still keep your job search going. For someone like me, that kind of policy would make this job go from necessary evil to opportunity.
- And did I mention that most of the 30 other temps in the room are lawyers and paralegals? If this group is any indication, it's the short guys, minorities and women that are getting laid off at the big firms. This is my problem. I mean, they can't help it that they're lawyers.

I'm glad I had one Friday to work and now I've got the weekend to prepare for next week. I'll come in casual clothes with non-perishable food items to avoid an expensive purchased lunch, and a bottle of water so I don't have to buy it in the expensive store downstairs. A person's got to do what a person's got to do, after all, and I need the money so I'll do this. But fingers crossed Whole Foods or the Art Institute come through for work to get my by instead.

5 comments:

Coaster Punchman said...

I thought this job was in the PM. Oh well, just remember you will be able to laugh about it one day.

lulu said...

I have felt your pain. What kind of job are you looking for at WF? I know a manager at one of the locations if that would help at all. (He's a former student, I didn't fail him when I should have, so he probably owes me something)

ShelbyB said...

Another story of hell told with a humourous stance - nice one MJ. Strap on the gloves and mask and grit your teeth, I guess...?

michaelg said...

My first temp job when I moved to Minneapolis was removing rubber bands and paper clips from files before they got to those with the skill level your current job is operating at. I feel the pain.

Sonja said...

What's the iPod mix for a job like this? You can wear iPods can't you?