I have a work colleague who has been at the company now for about two and a half years as a contractor. I too am a contractor and originally when I first joined (he joined a few months after me) we were supplied by the same two contracting agencies, one agency supplying another who in turn then supplied the company with the staff. Right there he assumed we had a bond, and on some level we did. We both had to deal with the shoddiness of the management of the main agency and the poor rate of pay we ended up with once both agencies took their cut. It was good on that level to have someone to bitch to when things weren’t going right.
Originally he was not based in the main office, contracted out on a specific project overseas so we rarely crossed each others paths and contact was by phone or email. After about 18 months I left but with a view to return once I had been away long enough to free myself from a rather stifling legal contract with the main contracting agency. A former colleague was leaving and I was asked to come back to take her place. I was more than happy to do that, I loved that job and I loved the people there. My agency buddy was still here but a month later his contract was due to expire or be renewed, and as was typical, the main agency guy messed everyone around. He left everything to the last minute, requested some inordinately high rate increase that the contractor had no idea about and no doubt wouldn’t have seen a penny of (and neither would the other agency). The company agreed a temporary extension but without the huge leap in pay, just a smaller increase, however they stated that this would be the last renewal and the contractor would soon have to look for another job elsewhere.
While that is all pretty shitty, in some ways it is good. It is good that the company no longer has to deal with the main agency as there are no other staff left who were employed using them anymore. It is also good that the contractor himself will be free from having to deal with that agency too. It is also good that the middle-man agency also can now sever their ties with the main agency. However, the contractor in question thinks that perhaps he can do the same as me, go away and work elsewhere for at least six months and perhaps come back and get a better rate of pay. That is all very well – however he is pretty useless.
Well perhaps useless is a bit harsh, but he worked for around two years in isolation to the rest of our department, based on a customer site. He did things his own way but seemed to have little to show for it. He had a good relationship with his project manager, they were pretty similar so I understood that. But when he started to have to produce work for people outside of that project, that’s when the cracks started to show.
If someone asks me to do a piece of work for them by a certain time, nine times out of 10 I will have supplied them with the job before the deadline. The rest would be on the deadline date itself. I set reminders, I allocate myself a time in the day to ensure I complete the task. If I know it might not be done by the deadline I will let the requester know in good time, but it is rare that the task isn’t done. However with this guy I’ve come to realise that if you ask him for something to be done by a certain day or time, you need to lower your expectations. It will invariably be late, or you will have to keep chasing and reminding him about it. You will have to ask a minimum of three times before he might reveal to you that actually he has no idea how to do the task you are asking him to do (which he should know and I get a little miffed at why he doesn’t.) He will call you 15 minutes before a major stakeholder meeting to tell you he can’t work out how to make the spreadsheet show information for his presentation that he has had weeks to prepare for. He disappears for hours on end with no meetings in his diary, no idea where he is. Sometimes he disappears even when he does have meetings in his calendar and just fails to turn up to them. Meetings that he has proper involvement in.
He is also quite frustrating when he does come to meetings. In our team meetings he will ask questions about things that have just been discussed, showing he clearly hasn’t been paying attention. He will repeat things other people have just said to make it sound like no-one else had that idea. There will be a topic that get’s discussed for example – a particular functionality isn’t working in the system we use, there is a workaround but it can only be done by two people in the team with the proper access rights (of which he isn’t one of them), he will ask questions about it such as “Oh I need to do this thing on one of my projects. So what do I need to do?” And he will be advised that he needs to inform the two people who can do it which project it is and they will do it for him. Straight after the meeting he asks about it again and is told the same thing. Then after he goes out on his 15th cigarette break of the day he comes back in and asks about it again and funnily enough is told the same thing. He promptly then tries to do it himself and then has to send an email to the two people who can do it asking why it isn’t working for him.
When I came back my colleagues expressed their concerns to me about his work, mainly in that they had no idea what he did all day. He commutes each week – drives up from London on a Monday, stays in a hotel over the road from our office building and then works from home on a Friday. I say work from home, but I’m not sure how much work is actually involved in this. On Monday’s he could arrive any time between 10am and 12pm. He doesn’t necessarily stay late to make up the time. During the week he can turn up any time between 9am – 10:30am despite his hotel being a five minute walk from the office. There is no consistency and he was constantly late for morning meetings. He was rarely at his desk and because everything asked of him took so long to get done they just had little faith in him and became reluctant to ask him to do certain tasks because they knew they wouldn’t get completed to a good enough standard – if at all. I had to cover for him while he was on holiday, I reviewed his previous minutes from board meetings and was quite amazed at the poor quality of them. The manager of another team also expressed his concern, he often saw him panicking in meetings when asked to take notes (which is a key part of his job), if indeed he turned up to meetings at all. I advised him to feed this back to our manager. If he has plans to one day come back here, our manager needs to know the full picture so he can make the appropriate decision should that situation arise.
And now, with just a few weeks remaining on his contract here, he has sent out an email to pretty much everyone (including people outside of our company – our third parties and customers) asking for feedback, encouraging people to give him recommendations on LinkedIn. In fact just this weekend he wrote me a nice recommendation on the site, presumably to encourage me to do the same. I’m sure some people think he is marvelous, perhaps he has provided some top notch work in the past, but unfortunately my experience of his work hasn’t left me feeling very positive.
So what do I do? Do I leave him a stellar review, just to be kind? To help him find a better job somewhere else where he might be happier and less likely to want to come back here? Do I leave him some candid feedback but not on LinkedIn? Do I just say nothing and leave the candid feedback to come to him via our manager?
It is a dilemma. If I was his manager I would have been giving him some more regular feedback, although I know it is difficult to do this with non-permanent members of staff. Plus our department has seen three changes of manager since he started, hired by one, kept on by another and now released by the third. If I was his manager I would have taken the decision to not renew is contract much sooner. I would have perhaps put an action plan in place to encourage him to improve his timekeeping, his spelling and grammar (which is pretty bad) and general task management.
But as a colleague, on the same level as him, no I can’t really do any of these things. I am finding it hard to think of much that I could say as positive things, I cannot say that he is punctual, I cannot say that he delivers on time, I cannot say that he fully understands most of his day to day work, even after almost two and a half years.
So perhaps I’ll just keep my mouth shut. Besides – you really can’t polish a turd. Unless maybe you spray it with lacquer and keep it polished once it’s dry, but no, just no.