On the Job

When Contract Work Goes Bad

By Kenneth Bredemeier
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, July 12, 2007; 4:39 PM

Companies often turn to outside resources for help with large projects. Unlike permanent employees, however, contractors are temporary and bound by a contract to complete a specific job by a certain time. So when things aren't running smoothly and the project is in danger, what's a contractor to do?

That is what one contractor in such a situation wonders:

I was hired several months ago as a subcontractor for a project for a major communications firm. I've worked for large corporations before and know they can move slowly. In this case, however, I am shocked at the lack of urgency and obfuscation that borders on passive-aggressive behavior in my department.

Vendors repeatedly complain about a lack of resources, departments not cooperating and not being able to meet deadlines but never provide alternative solutions. Additionally, my immediate supervisor has left me and another colleague in charge of the project while he's out on vacation.

This is not what I expected. If I quit now, however, I'm sure my departure would be used as an excuse for more delays. What should I do? Keep quiet or mention to a higher-up?

Ultimately, the contractor's goal is to perform for the client and ensure that the project moves forward, says Patricia A. Miller, president of Patricia A. Miller HR Consulting in Seven Valleys, Pa.

Since he is now in charge, Miller says, his main priority should be pushing the project past its obstacles. Sometimes companies are not entirely sure about how to successfully complete projects, she continues, and that's why contractors are hired.

He should compile a status report that includes where things are and what needs to be done, says Miller, then submit it to the managers he works most closely with. If that doesn't result in a refocused effort, he can then escalate the matter within the organization.

Quitting isn't recommended unless successful completion seems impossible, says Miller -- and even if that appears likely, this contractor should examine his role to see if or how he is at fault. He needs to be sure he's meeting the standards set within his contract, because he might be sued if he isn't.

Kenneth Bredemeier has six years of experience writing about the workplace. On the Job, a column addressing real worker questions about office relationships, corporate policies and workplace law, is written exclusively for washingtonpost.com. To submit a question, e-mail onthejob@washingtonpost.com. We reserve the right to edit submitted questions for length and clarity and cannot guarantee that all questions will be answered.

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