Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Awesome Assignment

As a Permanent Temporary, I get used to switching assignments all the time. I have gone through several Agencies that helped me find a Full-Time job - some I have even stayed at for years. Over the last five or six, though, it has been mostly one temp assignment after another. There were several periods in between where I was too sick or depressed to work, or there just wasn't any work to be had, but I when I HAVE been healthy enough to work, I have almost always found a job through some sort of a temp agency.

There are some places I have worked where I knew going in that it would be a short assignment. Usually it is because there is a small, brainless, but very important job that must be done (sometimes every single month) and they don't have the manpower or desire to keep someone around all month for one week of work. Sometimes you get to answer phones for a receptionist who is on vacation or something exciting like that, but mot of the time is is filing, faxing, stuffing envelopes, and typically anything that no one else would want to do.  You and your boss both know that you are only there for a day or a week and so neither of you bother getting to know each other very much. You don't bring any family photos and you bring your own coffee mug and take it home with you every day.

There are a lot of assignments I have been to that were Temp-To-Perm. They needed someone Full-Time and long term, but they wanted to try a candidate out before spending money on HR and Benefits. That can be good because when it sucks, you can just call your agent and they take care of telling your boss that you quit. That can also be very stressful because every day is like a job interview. You feel like you are under a microscope all the time and any work you do is scrutinized for any little mistake. At any moment, the bosses could come to you and say "Today is your last day" and you get to box up your family photo and your coffee mug and be on your way.

Every now and then there is a Direct Hire situation, where a company uses an agency to find a candidate that they decide to hire immediately. That happened only once to me. After two rounds of interviews, I was hired on as the admin support for two different bosses. It was cool - until the bosses walked in one day and said, "Today is your last day" and you had to box up my family photo and my coffee mug and be on my way.

What I have found out working literally dozens of jobs over the past few years is that in the end, every job is the same. Texas is considered an At Will Employment state. You can be hired or fired for any reason at all. You can also accept or quit a job for any reason at all. For the sake of Unemployment, you really DO need a good reason to quit, and if they don't want a lawsuit, THEY had better have a reason OTHER than racial, sex, religious, lifestyle, or otherwise to fire you. But still, if they are mad that you occasionally leave little sticky notes (that THEY put there in the first place, and that they threw away after you pulled them off, and were only there so that you knew where to file them) on the documents in the filing cabinet (even though everything was filed correctly) they can fire you for that. (As you probably guessed, this happened to me. It was a relief to be fired.) On the other hand, if you decide you want to walk off the job at any time when you are fed up with the place, you can. (Don't ever try to work for that company again, though, and you really should have a better reason to give TWC other than "I didn't feel like working anymore.")

I have already said in earlier postings that I was more than a little nervous about even looking for a new job when I got the call to show up for this position. I had almost given up completely working a full time job because every time I start somewhere, I end up getting sicker within a few months and things go downhill from there. After being fired over the last few years a whole lot more than I would like to mention, I have no desire to go through that again. The hassle that the whole family has to go through every time I attempt to go back to work (and then fail) is a lot for everyone to deal with.Besides all that, I had time to handle doctors appointments and errands, and if the kids were sick, they were free to be at home to get better. If I were sick, my part time evening gig let me sleep all day if I had to and (even though it really doesn't pay enough) I was prepared to do that for as long as I needed to (the working, not the sleeping.)

When the agency called me to show up at this place (no extra interview, just show up and start working) I decided to accept this assignment first, because I was told it was short term and second, it paid a LOT more than I have made anywhere else. Short term meant that I would only have to deal with working all day for a little while and then I would be able to go back home and rest when the assignment was over. The extra money meant that two weeks of pay would cover the down payment for the second car we really needed. So I made the decision to get on my feet and attempt to start living life instead of watching it happen from my bedroom or the living room couch.

When I found out the details of why I was there and what I would be doing, nothing could have been designed better for me. Another person in the department had been out on sick leave and they didn't know when he would be back. I would work until he was healthy and back and then the assignment would be over. They thought I might be needed for two weeks (just long enough.) I was prepared for filing and maybe some light data entry (the stuff a trained monkey could do) but the job duties I was given from the beginning were a dream come true. They needed someone who was good with Excel, could pick up web based programs, and could learn to use one of those proprietary company programs (that always use the function keys and don't normally allow you to use the mouse.) They also needed someone who could file and not take all week to do it and could take simple instructions and extrapolate correctly. Finally, they needed someone who was capable of doing small things over and over again without falling asleep, making huge mistakes, or pulling out their own hair. I am uncommonly good at all of those things (the job part, not the pulling out the hair part.) I have so much experience with filing that I can do it in my sleep without misplacing anything (just PLEASE don't ask me to remove every, single, solitary Post-It note after you insist on placing them every where you can think of.) I have an uncanny knack for tedious and boring jobs, data entry, remembering function keys, using web based programs, and especially anything having to do with Excel.(I'm not bragging here, I just know what I can do. Now, ask me to program in code or repair a transmission, and I'm good for nothing there.)

The other people in my department are just the coolest. There is one Country Boy (CB), who is one of the most intelligent people I have ever worked with, but also has a deep Texas accent and a strong love of turnip greens (he brings them as a snack every single day. I swear!) Then there is the Blond Soccer Mom (BS doesn't work, nor do SM, or BSM, so I'll go with Blondie) who is incredibly sweet. She has two kids around the ages of two of mine, so we get along remarkably well. Our boss, Cat Lady (because she loves cats, not because she looks like one or dresses up like one at night to go and fight crime) is just a hoot and I really enjoy working for her.

The gentleman who was out sick, (Sick Boy) is still out sick, sort of. I don't like to dish on people who aren't around to defend themselves and I strongly dislike spreading rumor so there isn't much I can say about him. Most of it is hearsay and not a lot of it is extremely positive. He has just been out sick for so long and then comes in for a day and then is out sick for another long stretch, and I think it just has worn out the patience of his co-workers. He seemed like a nice enough guy, but when you aren't there to do your work, other people have to do it for you. That can lead to a bit of resentment. In his defense, he does have a valid reason to be out. He had a small accident several months ago and now he is having trouble with the resulting injury and recovering from the surgeries. You can SEE that he hurts and you can tell that he is not healed, so we all know he's not faking it. There seems to be a bit of tension about the whole issue, though.

The thing is, the longer he is out, the more job security I have. My two week assignment has turned in to six so far, and I am supposed to go back next week. I wouldn't wish ill on anyone, especially for my own gain, so I don't wish that he stays sick. I do love my job though, and I hate to see him come back to work, only to be in pain and have to leave again. I feel guilty wanting to stay and being excited that I keep getting my assignment extended because that means he is still out and probably feeling bad. There has never been a situation more designed to help me succeed, though. It feels like I was meant to be here. Let me explain.

First, of course, is the job which capitalizes on all my strengths (data entry, filing, Excel, comparing lists of numbers, rechecking work for accuracy, etc.) but doesn't require me to work on my weaknesses (accuracy without an ability to correct mistakes, sitting still for long hours without a break, absolute adherence to an exact schedule, combing through filing cabinets for sticky notes...) My co-workers are pleasant, supportive, communicative, and they don't beat me up for every little mistake. (They even admit their own mistakes when they happen. Gasp!) Commuting is easy without feeling like I'm cheating. I have a 30 minute drive, which is average, half on the highway and half through town. I work in Addison which is familiar to me (so I don't get lost - trust me that is a big deal) and is also very cool to office in (more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the world.) I even get to park in a parking garage that doesn't charge.  In Texas, that is worth more than you might think because of the heat and sun and bi-polar weather (imagine the inside of your car getting hot enough to boil water so that your A/C doesn't cool down until you pull in your driveway at home, or walking through torrential rain to get to you car, only to have it stop as soon as you start the engine.)

The time for starting back to work feels right, too. We have two working vehicles for the first time ever, so there isn't an issue of carpooling and juggling schedules. In fact, our schedules have helped things run more smoothly. DH works a later shift than I do (or anyone else should have to, really) but that means he has more time in the morning so he mostly feeds the kids breakfast, while I get up and get ready and then I help him make sure they are dressed and don't look like they just rolled out of bed. I leave for work when he leaves to take them to school and everyone gets where they need to be on time. If there are small errands to run, he can do that first thing. I don't have to worry about getting that call 30 minutes after I get to work because someone left their lunch or forgot field trip money. (It is the little things like those that ruin your day -and your job performance - faster than you can sneeze.) Since I am home earlier in the evening, I take care of the evening appointments (like PTA meetings) and dinner (which I am generally in charge of anyway.) Now that all three girls are old enough they can walk home from school on their own. Even LH is able to. The walk is not far for any of them and it happens to be the best time of year for it. (We have a back-up ride home in case of rain, but the heat isn't an issue like it is in the first part of the year.)

The outside forces have come together to smooth my path for me. Even my body decided it would give me a break and let me work. I still have pain and I still get dog tired, but I can handle it better than I ever could before. I have only called in sick once in 6 weeks (that is actually a record for me since I got started to get sick) Once, I even dealt with a full-on migraine (without any medication) for the entire afternoon without leaving early. That is not something I would have been able to handle, say, six months ago. For the time being, I have found someone to cover my shifts at the part time gig so I don't have to try and work two jobs at once. (Thank you #3 Sister!) That would not have been nearly as easy to do at any time before this.

Things do not always go exactly as I would like them to. I sometimes get calls from the girls after they get home because they need to tattle on each other or a stray dog followed them home. We eat out more than we eat in because I forget to plan for the night's meal and nothing is thawed or can be prepared before the kids have to go to bed. The house typically looks like a tornado hit it most of the time. My weekends are also spent resting from the last week and storing up energy for the next week, so I not really able to do much around or outside of the house. I think it is getting better, though. I still canceled all my appointments for this weekend (again) but I am able to do much more than just sit around and do nothing. (Okay, I am supervising it getting done, and the house only looks like a strong wind hit it, not a direct hit by a Force 5 hurricane, but it is progress.) I can't really make future plans because I only know if I am going to work there one week at a time. That is a little bit irritating, but it affects the girls more than it does me. They are the ones who were used to getting a ride home from school and having dinner cooked at home every night.

All of that seems a small price to pay. I feel as if the job has helped me become stronger as I push myself to get back to some type of normal. I am praying that somehow, my boss finds a place for me at this company. There is a precedence of temps starting there and staying on - in their original department or even somewhere else in the company. There is also a very visible history of people staying with the company for years and years because they really love it there. I can see that there could very well be a spot for me in this department, whether Sick Boy comes back or not. Most of the work I have been doing is not the work that he hasn't done, but the work that the other two are unable to take care of in their own realm of responsibilities. I can see it very well, but it isn't up to me if I stay. The budget makes the final choices on everything.

Of course, I am being optimistic in my heart, but I am trying to be realistic in my mind. If they come to my desk Friday and tell me that the assignment is over, I will try so hard not to be crushed, but I know I will probably cry! For the first time, in a very long time, I will be perfectly confident that I was not let go because of my own incompetency and I will miss working with the people there, very much. I have performed by duties beyond their expectations, and they have told me so. My boss is one of those wonderful people who likes to manage adults. The rest of the department is salaried, so they are able to be flexible in their hours. She allows me this flexibility, too. As long as I am there when I say I will be and I take care of my work, I can take lunch and breaks when I need to or eat lunch while I work if I want to. I also can arrange an hour or two off for an appointment and make up the time earlier or later in the week. She trusts me and I am honest and everything works out splendidly that way. (Something that has cost me jobs in the past is coming in at 8:10 one day and 7:50 the next, or taking 30 minutes of lunch one day so I can have 1 1/2 hours another.)

The money is really nice, but honestly, it is the smallest benefit of this job. I can make money anywhere. (Maybe not as much...) I haven't found a place that I love to come in to every day like this in several years. So, for those of you who pray, I am humbly asking for you to keep praying for me that this job turns out to be what I need. (I know better than to pray for what I want...that will backfire every time.) For everyone else, positive thoughts my way will be appreciated (but, feel free to skin a tree or burn a rabbit, or whatever it is that you do.)

Debbie "Working Girl" Lollar

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