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Should I tell my boss that job uncertainty is affecting my ability to do work? If so, how best to explain?

I am a developer working on a contract basis for an organization and manager I like and would like to continue with, and my current contract is about to expire. Unfortunately contracts go through a bureaucratic renewal process; while it's likely I will be renewed, it's not 100% guaranteed and the rate is not yet set. Given these uncertainties, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate at work and I feel it's affecting my performance. I'm typically a high-performer and don't want my boss to think I'm under-performing for other reasons, so thought I should tell my boss.

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    If you don't like job uncertainty, why are you contract instead of salary? Try finding a salaried position (this has some more certainty, though no job is permanent security)..
    – enderland
    Apr 24, 2015 at 20:13
  • What is the timeline we are looking at? How long is left on your current contract? How long is the renewal process? Apr 24, 2015 at 20:25
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    Look for and interview for other jobs. The more you practice, the better you'll get at interviewing. The better you'll get, the more confident and less nervous you'll become. This is true whether you choose to remain at your current position, or not. Just do it for the practice and the peace of mind if nothing else. Apr 24, 2015 at 21:37
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    @enderland You make it sound like it's easy to just get any type of job you want. Did you know that employers are increasingly offering contract positions over regular full-time since the recession? Many hope to get their foot in and change to permanent.
    – Jack
    Apr 25, 2015 at 23:57

4 Answers 4

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Although you're being honest about your lack of productivity, you haven't provided any solution. You may want to start a conversation with your boss about your contract renewal. I wouldn't focus on the lack of productivity, would mention it is something on your mind. Knowing he's looking into it may ease your concerns.

In the future, you're going to need to learn how to cope with uncertainty. All jobs have it to some extent. Start ups run out of funds. Projects get killed. Cut-backs that results in lay-offs happen at the most established companies with full-time employees.

Continuously taking pride in focusing on doing quality work is what is going to keep you employed in the long-run. This contract may not get renewed, but you should try to get a solid recommendation from this client. They may have contacts at other companies that are looking for good programmers. Slacking off at the very end is what they will remember the most. That is not what you want.

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  • You're right, announcing a problem without a solution isn't productive, but starting a conversation is. My momentary panic has subsided; just need to remember Douglas Adams: Don't Panic.
    – Luke
    Apr 28, 2015 at 1:55
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To me, that would come across as "sandbagging" (delaying or slowing work in order to coerce an action or concession from an employer) and would likely make a manager reticent to extend your contract.

If you are going to work as a contractor, you have to manage the lifecycle of your contracts. You have to find it within yourself to work just as hard with 6 hours left on your contract as you do with 6 months left.

As each contract nears conclusion, you need to be looking for your next opportunity. The extension of this contract is a possibility, but not a certainty, so you should be cultivating other leads, now. Remember, you owe the client no more than they owe you. You are both considering another agreement. Neither of you is pledged to it. They may decide to go another route, and you may, as well. A well-run company secures the resources they need. They don't dicker about and hope the resources they need are available later. A good contractor secures work, and doesn't dicker about and hope work finds them.

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    +1. My recommendation would be: Be so good at what you do that your client is nervous about losing you if the end of your contract draws near and you have not yet signed on for the next six months. Apr 24, 2015 at 20:09
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    Thanks, Great advice -- "A well-run company secures the resources they need. They don't dicker about and hope the resources they need are available later. A good contractor secures work, and doesn't dicker about and hope work finds them." -- Sadly I don't think my organization will be able to fix their end of things, but I should work on my end.
    – Luke
    Apr 24, 2015 at 20:13
  • Also good advice: "Be so good at what you do that your client is nervous about losing you" -- They are nervous, they're just trapped in their own bureaucracy.
    – Luke
    Apr 24, 2015 at 20:15
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    There are two ways to deal with bureaucracies: 1) Accept the damage they do (in this case, losing resources) and be accepting of the lost opportunities for the consistency they bring, and 2) Don't accept the lost opportunities, and root the bureaucrats out with flamethrowers. The company has to make that call. Apr 24, 2015 at 20:27
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    What it is reasonable to do is tell your boss that since your contract is not renewed, you are being forced to look for other work, and that if you get a firm offer before the contract is renewed , then you will be forced to take. it. That should help to hurry the process up, if anything can. Apr 25, 2015 at 3:36
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That's an explanation that will blow up in your face if you ever voiced it. It's like saying "I am falling apart because I can't take the pressure", which is an absolute no-no in the world of professionals.

If you are being distracted by the uncertainty, you need to manage such uncertainty by either eliminating the uncertainty or mitigating it. You mitigate it by interviewing for other jobs - don't put all your eggs in the same basket.

Your cat cannot do anything about being thrown off the first floor of a building. But it can do plenty about twisting and turning in midair until it lands on its padded feet. You may not be able to do anything about being given the shove. But you can do plenty about being able to land on your feet. At a better rate than you are being currently paid as a consultant. Or with a more stable situation as a full-time employee of your client - Yeah, I know. Your employer contract may forbid this but in the case of a former subordinate of mine, the client simply used its muscle as a buyer of services to "convince" his employer to release him from his contract so that the client could hire him full-time.

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Should I tell my boss that job uncertainty is affecting my ability to do work?

Given these uncertainties, I'm finding it increasingly difficult to concentrate at work and I feel it's affecting my performance. I'm typically a high-performer and don't want my boss to think I'm under-performing for other reasons, so thought I should tell my boss.

You are basically saying that you are a high-performer, except when you can't concentrate because of "uncertainty".

As a hiring manager, that's not something I'd want to hear.

I would interpret it as coming from someone who may or may not be good when everything is just right, but who can't handle the job when things aren't perfect.

In my company at least, as well as every other place I have worked, things don't always go well. Stress happens, ambiguity happens, uncertainty happens. Sometimes things go smoothly, sometimes not. It's important to find a way to deal with the work as it is.

I think your best bet is to find a way to do the best you can even under these "uncertain" circumstances, and see what happens with the renewal process. If you aren't renewed use it as a learning exercise for the next contract, and find a way to block out the "uncertainties" that are causing your under-performance.

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