Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Things I've learned as a Temp

Herein follow the lessons I have learned from nearly four years of working for various temp agencies. If you are a temp, or suspect you may soon become one, I invite you to suckle from my teat of wisdom and gain enlightenment, young one...

1. You are an office prostitute
This is probably the hardest rule to come to terms with, ego-wise, but it's the most important: for all intents and purposes, your pimp (the temp agency) rents you out to a john (your client) who proceeds to have his dirty way with you (your assignment). For as long as you can take it up the ass, you get paid. And rest assured: your john WILL expect you to give him an around-the-world. Whether it's cleaning the break room, moving boxes, or any other shit job you can imagine, he will make you do it. Thus it behooves you to study your employee manual, memorize which duties are considered unsafe or unsuitable for you to do, and practice saying this line until you can rattle it off flawlessly: "My agency will not permit me to perform such a task."

2. Despite what they say, they won't ever hire you
They won't. Why would they? They're paying you a fraction of what they pay their regular employees for what is often the same amount and quality of work. Compare this with a salaried employee, which costs them benefits, potential insurance increases, associated spouse and dependent benefits, annual performance reviews, raises and cost-of-living adjustments. Plus, if they don't like you, they can send you home at any time, as opposed to the hassle of going through HR and the requisite filling-out of paperwork that is needed to fire someone.

Of course, they'll promise you anything, because they want you to be a productive and unquestioning worker bee. As long as they think you think you have a chance at being hired, they'll string you along with all sorts of false hope. The usual line is something like, "Human Resources has declared a hiring freeze right now, but as soon as I can I'll bring you on as a full employee." Translated from bullshit, this actually means, "I have no intention of hiring you, but I'm too chickenshit to say as much. I'll blame it on HR instead because everybody hates them." It is imperative for you to maintain a straight face when hearing this, because the moment they know that you know it's bullshit, they'll find a reason to dismiss you so that they can bring in the next easily-gulled whore temp.

3. Be a mercenary
When your task is complete, your job is done. When your job is done, you are no longer getting paid. Thus it behooves you to be just efficient enough for them to keep you around, but not so efficient that you finish a day's work in six hours. If you honestly think your employer will pay you to do nothing for two hours as a reward for a job well done, bang your head against the nearest brick wall until lesson #1 sinks in. No, either you'll be sent home (and screwed out of two hours' pay) or by golly they'll find something for you to do.

What you must do in this situation is take control by pretending to be proactive. Find something that is either easy to do and improves the quality of life of other people (alphabetizing files, making photocopies, etc) or is incredibly involved (like reorganizing a library). Either way, most office personnel will appreciate this thankless task and won't begrudge you taking your sweet time to complete it.

Also, ask for overtime every chance you get. At your meager pay rate, time and half is sweet, sweet candy. A particularly adept office whore will find a way to execute a task in such a manner that being sent home at quitting time will result in the john missing a deadline/ losing money/ being unprepared for an audit, forcing him to pay you 1.5 times your rate just to clean up the mess you made.

4. Do your job, not theirs
Of course, human beings are naturally exploitive bastards, and at least one person will attempt to take advantage of you by having you essentially do his job for him. Assuming this is not the job for which you have been hired, here are the appropriate reactions:
  • Agree eagerly.
  • Ask many, many questions. Even if you understand the task, pretend you do not.
  • Look for ways in which you could make a disastrous mistake which could be attributed to ignorance or lack of training.
  • Made said mistake, preferably in the presence of a supervisor or an irate customer.
  • If you are brought to task for this, state that you're trying the best you can but you haven't been trained for this and anyway this isn't even the job you were brought in to do but what's-his-name asked you to do it and and and.... (if you can convincingly fake tears of frustration, this is the time)
Done properly, this technique will get you quickly returned to the task for which you were purchased, and the exploitive asshole in trouble. In an ideal world, he gets fired and you get his job...

5. Don't ever get comfortable
Call it karma, fate or simple sloppiness, but the moment you relax enough to start thinking of your current assignment as "your job", it's over. No one in the aristocracy (IE, management) appreciates a prole who is arrogant enough to believe that she's as good as the middle-class (IE, the salaried employees).

Under no circumstances should you:
  • Voice your opinion on anything
  • Call the managers anything other than "Sir" or "Ma'am"
  • Talk to the other employees as if you were their equal
  • Decorate your work area to personalize it
  • Get a nameplate
  • Make jokes or be sarcastic
If you do any of these things, you'll be canned before you know it. If they can't find a reason to dismiss you, they'll invent one. No, the attitude they want to see is that of a dog freshly released from the pound, hungry for food and desperately afraid of being sent back. As long as you know your place, you see, they'll find you tolerable enough, but the moment you become uppity with delusions of adequacy... well, we just can't have that, now can we?

This is the sum total of my wisdom. Use it well, with snarky cynicism.

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