Q. I am a contract employee in an office. A regular (non-contract) employee, who is not my supervisor, is almost constantly talking about her mother. She has asked me to help her do her work, criticized my e-mail style and tells me there are some people in the organization I should not email. (Is the latter directive because I am JUST a contractor?) Reportedly, she is now applying to be my supervisor. I do not feel comfortable with the situation but am afraid to leave due to my age and a less than stellar job history. Please advise what I should do.
A. In some offices there is a distinction between contract employees and “regular” employees. Contract or temporary employees are seen as having less seniority, and some staff feel entitled to provide contractors with more feedback, and/or direction than they would to a non-contractor colleague. While this isn’t the case in all offices, it does happen in many places, and is one of the down sides of contracting.
People who are successful contractors are prepared for all kinds of welcomes to a new work place. Some are great, kind, and thrilled to have the support of a new employee. Others are thrilled to have a new low man on the totem pole to pass on as many awful assignments as they can before they are stopped. Your goal is to be able to deal with both welcomes, do your work well enough to make your supervisor happy, and ride out the waves, not make them, in the office.
To successfully work in any office requires lots of patience. There are all types of people talking about a full range of topics. You are walking into relationships in progress, a culture others have experience with, and an array of danger zones. The woman who talks about her mother may be dealing with issues that others can relate to. The conversation may not be directed at you, but to others in the office. It may be annoying, but it doesn’t sound harmful, so I would just listen, offer a supportive look and nod, and keep working.
Let’s try and take a positive outlook, (a choice for us in how we see people– not easy, but it is a choice!) We might think this woman has sincerely offered you some help in getting acclimated to the organization. Perhaps other contractors have been given heat for emailing all levels of the organization when there had been a reporting structure in place for them to use. Was she trying to give you a heads up? Do her comments make your emails better? If they do, appreciate that fact. Figure out what you can learn from her. As long as your work is done, and whoever you report to does know you are assisting her with her work, do so. Team work is a huge component in positive relationships in offices, and contractors develop strong bonds learning how this works early on.
Your colleague may be applying for the role of supervisor and she is trying out her supervisory skills on you. You say you are uncomfortable, and it may be with fear of losing this position based on your relationship with someone who may become your supervisor. This may be the right opportunity to develop the work experience you have into something stellar, to develop the skills you need to stay long term, and to develop many positive relationships with colleagues and supervisors.
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Patricia Hunt Sinacole is president of First Beacon Group LLC, a human resources consulting firm in Hopkinton. She works with clients across many industries including technology, biotech and medical devices, financial services, and healthcare, and has over 20 years of human resources experience.
Elaine Varelas is managing partner at Keystone Partners, a career management firm in Boston and serves on the board of Career Partners International.
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Peter Post is the author of "The Etiquette Advantage in Business." Email questions about business etiquette to him directly here.
Stu Coleman, a partner and general manager at WinterWyman, manages the firm's Financial Contracting division, and provides strategic staffing services to Boston-area organizations needing Accounting and Finance workforce solutions and contract talent.
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Paul Hellman is the founder of Express Potential, which specializes in executive communication skills. He consults and speaks internationally on how to capture attention & influence others. Email him directly here.