“What If They Fire My Boss?”

AbideThis article is for my peers and comrades who are technical-communications professionals that work in vendor contracting agencies, rather than working as full-time employees of a technology company.

Here in Seattle right now, you can’t innocently browse the Web, glance at your Facebook feed, or check scores in the local newspaper without a fearsome speculation jumping out to grab you:

“Layoffs of up to 5,642 Reportedly Expected”
“With Merger, Local Layoffs Are Expected”
“Will Wall Street Still Love this Company When It Lays Off 20% of  Workforce?”

Then your mother or sister or best friend from college calls and asks, innocently, “Will you lose your job with all these layoffs?”

… that haven’t actually happened …

Those of us who choose to work as contract employees are always steeped in uncertainty:

What happens if this contract is cancelled?

Will this contract be renewed when it ends?

Have all contracting jobs dried up?

Let me share some manager’s experience about the issues that can affect contract works when the “permanent” supervisor’s position seems to be in jeopardy.

In Times of Uncertainty

In one nine-month period of corporate change and uncertainty, I reported to a series of five different General Managers, who in turn served under a series of six different Corporate Vice Presidents.

Yet my role and my team’s mission remained the same.

With each change in reporting structure, the next staff meeting began with a great deal of nervous tension. I initiated the discussion and let people ask questions:

“Our mission is the same. Your roles are the same. Our budget is intact. It will be several months before we understand the new direction and any change in our mission or budget.”

I’d served several years before under a manager enduring the same stress. Over an entire year of “no new direction,” he’d start each staff meeting with:

“Hold steady. Keep doing what you are doing. Nothing has changed.”

And that lasted up through two significant changes:

  • Half the team left the company, unable to work with the severe level of uncertainty.
  • The mission was changed so dramatically under the new management structure, that three-fourths of the remaining have changed jobs inside the company, moving to different divisions.

So, what do you do as a contract worker when your supervisor says, “Our mission is unchanged,” when there is so much change and rumor surrounding the whole company?

Do:

  • Check with your project manager at contracting agency.
    … Who will be the first to know if there are changes in your project status.
  • Update your resume, and let your project manager at your contracting agency know about your plans for future availability.

Don’t:

  • Bug your supervisor for frequent updates about project status. (Your supervisor will notify your agency first … so seek answers from your agency.)
  • Change your work habits, productivity, or expectations about your project timeline—even if permanent employees on your project see demoralized.
    Tip: You work for the agency, and your job is to deliver on project tasks and milestones.

If Your Project Supervisor Is Made Redundant

I love this British term. It reeks of depressive cloning, state in the same passive voice as “mistakes were made.”

If a company gives your manager early retirement or a termination package along with several thousand other employees, you will hear one of two messages from the company:

“Meet your new manager. Please do everything you can to help her succeed in this rapid transition.”

—OR—

“This organization is ending or being transitioned under another division. Your project is being terminated as of [date].”

These are times of supreme uncertainty. What will guide you best through such transitions?

Do:

  • Listen closely to the new manager’s information about project directions, timelines, and quality requirements. The change in management may represent an overall change in product or project directions, and you need to understand this in terms of your tasks and project goals.
  • Stay in touch with your contracting-agency’s project manager through the transition. Share news and seek guidance for how to best handle the changes.
  • Help your new supervisor, when requested, to understand project processes and status, including anything that might by challenging either the milestones or project quality.

Don’t:

  • Use the transition as an opportunity to complain to company management about all the deficiencies and problems in your current project. If you feel you have important information to share, communicate it through your contracting-agency’s project manager.

If Your Project Supervisor Is Fired for Cause

Your supervisor might disappear from the company. The typical message is “She is seeking other opportunities,” and you will learn no more, unless news of a felony arrest appears in the local paper.

Do:

  • Help the new supervisor to understand the project issues.

Don’t:

  • Provide a core dump on project problems.
  • Bug your new supervisor or other permanent employees on the team for juicy details.
  • Repeat gossip about the problem—it just makes you look unprofessional.

In the End

As a contract worker, you have the opportunity to remain calm and carry on in the midst of drastic organizational— even when the permanent employees on your team are predicting the End of Life as We Know It.

Stay in touch with your contracting-agency’s supervisor, and protect your own professionalism and your reputation. Projects come and go. Even if this is your favorite team and the best project you ever worked on, there will be a new opportunity coming your way soon.

 

 

About EAStewart

Author of the Accidental Heretics series

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